John Gruber at Daring Fireball wrote a juicy post titled “Putting What Little We Actually Know About Chrome OS Into Context.” It’s a refreshingly sober take on the recent Google Chrome OS announcement, which spawned hyperbolic editorials. (Nuclear bomb, anyone?)
For starters, Gruber points out that there’s still a lot we don’t know besides that it’s free; will run on the Linux kernel; will be out next year, maybe around this time; and a couple other facts in the lean Chrome OS FAQ.
He also makes this observation:
The Chrome OS model isn’t about thin clients connecting to a server. It’s about thin clients connecting to many and any servers. One of the few sure things about Chrome OS is that it’s going to work well with Google’s own web apps, but the web is open, and Google is a strong proponent of open web standards. Everyone will have the opportunity to write web apps that run just as well in Chrome OS as Google’s own.
At an abstract level, there is much appeal to this concept. With all of your data and all of the software you use online, you have nothing to back up. Nothing to migrate when you buy a new computer — just log in from a different Chrome OS machine and there’s all your stuff…
He argues that for users, a primary Chrome OS machine is an unlikely prospect and the market for secondary systems is just that, secondary. Mix in capable enough smartphones–bet on a new and/or improved iPhone next summer, like clockwork–and netbooks that already tap into the cloud, the value proposition is unclear unless you’re an aficionado of Google’s online services. And don’t forget other cloud-friendly devices (and their software) like the upcoming CrunchPad.
What’s clear is that Google is tempering expectations. See for yourself at the carefully worded official announcement. You can’t fault them, really. When you throw around a term like operating system, expectations are high. More to the point, people are expecting a Windows or OS X killer.
Clearly, that’s not something Google is aiming for, unless they have some surprises in store. And that’s cause for concern. If it offers little more than a quick-booting way to interface and sync your local data stores with web apps, there’s little incentive to make the switch, particularly if, as Google points out:
The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.
What, if any, “meat” are they giving users as a reason to buy a Chrome OS netbook next summer?
One interesting, if pragmatic, aspect of Chrome OS is that it could make things like lost or stolen netbook a relatively painless matter – after the initial shock, of course. Also encouraging is all this talk about security being one of the tenets of the project.
Otherwise, there’s precious little else we know about Chrome OS and how it will help or hinder the cloud computing movement. But admit it; the mystery surrounding it is what makes it so exciting. And both mystery and excitement have been lacking in the OS wars of late.