When Google pulled the lid off of Chrome OS last week, most of the tech world rejoiced. Our suspicions were correct! Death to the desktop OS! Yay Web 4.0! (or whichever version we're on currently!).
But as I pored over the official Google post on Chrome, and then over the hundreds of articles providing instant analysis of the announcement, I realized just how scant the facts and details were. So, I called Google for some background and got some interesting answers. The company is still being cagey with specifics, but there's one thing for certain: death knells for Microsoft and Apple are exaggerated. Here are ten copmuting tasks that Chrome OS, as it is currently understood, won't do better than your traditional desktop PC.
Granted, Chrome OS is still little more than a twinkle in Google's eye. Details are scant, especially from Google themselves, and what it is and how it will work are two things still very much in development. But judging by what we do know now, Chrome will provide a very differfent experience than what most users are accustomed to currently. Here's how:
1. Save Files Locally in the Traditional Way
According to Google, absent will be the familiar file-handling schema of a traditional OS—-by which I mean folders and a desktop. As Google suggested in its blog post, these are vestiges of the pre-web era. Chrome OS and Chrome the browser will be one in the same, and everything you do on a Chrome-based machine will occur inside of the Chrome browser. The OS is the browser. So, forget the filesystem as you know it.
Instead, access to documents and files will probably look a lot like Google Docs does now, with storage of everything in "the cloud." You access them only through Web apps (finding them via an internal Google search, not through poking around a version of Windows Explorer or Finder). But, this raises a lot of questions: What happens when I'm offline? Will I lose all access to all of my files, or will a Google Gears-like interface exist for offline access? And if so, how will new local versions get re-synched to the cloud? But wait a minute, Google said no local file system for users' files! Confusing! We'll just have to wait and see how they figure this out, but as of now, we know Chrome OS will not be based on a traditional files-and-folders desktop. So if the thought of losing that gives you the shakes, Chrome may not be for you.
2. Run Desktop-Based Applications
There will be no third-party apps to install on Chrome OS-—well, not in the traditional sense, at least (seeing a pattern here?). Applications will exist on the Web and be run solely inside of the Chrome browser, which means every web app that already exists is also already a Chrome app. So, will you be able to run Photoshop on Chrome? You'll certainly be able to run the webified 'lite' version already available on Photoshop.com. Whether or not the full version will ever be browser-based is completely up to Adobe (and the limits of current web-based programming languages), not Google. The same goes for iTunes, which it's safe to assume won't be headed to the browser any time soon. In its stead, I expect others to step up with web-based media management apps that will duplicate iTunes functionality and maybe even improve upon it.
But, there are some problems to consider here. Because apps exist in the browser, there will be no inherently common GUI to Chrome like we're used to with traditional OSes. The way we open documents, the keyboard shortcuts, the look of the windows and tools could wildly from application to application. What's more, your data will be scattered all over the place. In a traditional OS, I have my pictures folder, my music folder and my documents folder, and I can use whatever application I wish to open these files. On Chrome, I'll presumably only have access to documents specific to each app. So, if I'm creating, say, a birthday invitation in Google Docs, how am I meant to insert a photo that's managed by the Photoshop web app?
Of course, Google could (and almost certainly will) solve these problems--a formal web-app SDK will surely provide at least some semblance of GUI standards, and it's not too difficult to imagine a cloud-based "G-Drive" storage repository, accessible from every Chrome app. But the desktop app as we know it will not exist.
3. Run CPU-Intensive Apps
Don't expect to be running Final Cut Pro, Maya, Pro Tools or other processor punishers on Chrome any time soon. With most of the computing power of a Web app actually residing on a server as opposed to the Chrome device itself, imagine how much bandwidth and time it would require to render a segment of video—never mind having to continuously upload and download multi-gigabyte files. It's just not realistic. Well, Google says, netbooks aren't designed for these kinds of tasks no matter what operating system you're on. True. But, Chrome is only just starting out on the netbook. The company said in its own blog post that the OS would eventually make the leap to the desktop. And, people use desktops for a lot more than surfing the Web.
Google's response to this dilemma is an interesting one, though one that's still a long way off. It's called Native Client, an open-source Google project that allows developers to run C and C++ code in the browser through a plug-in. Instead of having access to the sliver of processing power the browser normally gets to play with, Native Client gives web-based apps access to the full power of the user's processor, paving the way for full-fledged photo and video editing on Chrome someday down the line.
Forget exterminating Nazi zombies in the all-new Wolfenstein game coming to the PC in August. With little more than a glorified browser at your fingertips, Chrome gaming will be relegated to little Flash (and soon HTML 5) diversions such as Bejewled and poker. I suppose some iPhone-quality games aren't out of the question either. We may get some beefier 3D treats someday with the help of some future iteration of the Native Client plug-in, but for the foreseeable future you'll need a Windows partition to get your game on. Then again, those feeble little netbooks aren't really up to the task in the first place, are they?
5. Work Offline
Of course, a Web-based OS requires an Internet connection. Without one readily available, your new Chrome netbook will be a useless brick of plastic and silicon, right? Google's current official response to this conundrum is essentially "But, how often are you not near an Internet connection?"
To a certain extent, Google is right. Between increasingly ubiquitous Wi-Fi hotspots, 3G data networks and wireless Internet on airplanes, web access is all around us. But hold on a second. You can't count on having an Internet connection all the time. And, what about folks in developing countries, or rural areas in which 3G is non-existent and which the cable company could care less about? Sure, Google Gears allows you to work in the browser offline, but only in a limited capacity. To do anything useful, you'll eventually need Web access.
This makes it a strong likelihood that the initial Chrome OS netbooks will be sold with a cellular data plan contract, like many netbooks are already.
6. Have All Your Hardware Work Seamlessly
Up to now, Google's hasn't had to stress too much about system-level headaches such as hardware compatibility, and while I expect a lot of device drivers will be supplied by Chrome's Linux undercarriage, it's hard to imagine exactly how your iPhone, digital camera, printer, scanner, writing tablet, Bluetooth devices (you get the idea) will all tie seamlessly into a browser-based system. An iPhone or iPod might get mounted as a drive, but how will it sync and what will it be syncing to? A digital camera might call up Picasa in the browser, but what if I use Flickr instead? What are the chances my two-year-old wireless Lexmark printer will function? What happens when I try to play a DVD? Google insists it's working hard on the issue of device drivers, but take it from Microsoft: It's a horror show.
7. Multitask Like You're Used To
Broadband upload speeds, particularly for cable subscribers, are famously atrocious. For the majority of users who spend most of their online time downloading or streaming photos, music and videos, it's not much of an issue. But what about when your media is going the other way?
I upload photos to my Flickr account in the dead of night, otherwise my broadband connection slows to such a crawl I can barely get anything else done. Uploading photos, working on Google Docs, downloading a large file and surfing the web all at the same time? Forget about it. Now, imagine you're using Chrome and you're constantly uploading and downloading files to and from the cloud. Upload speeds being what they are today pose a significant hurdle to multitasking on Chrome. And, let's not forget that broadband providers have been experimenting with bandwidth caps recently. If all of your data resides online and you're continuously pulling it down and pushing it back up again, imagine how expensive that will get.
8. Get Tech Support?
When Gmail was still in beta (for the last six years, up until, fortuitously, the Chrome announcement), Google didn't have much of a responsibility to the user. It's a free service, and a beta one at that. If you don't like it, go somewhere else. If ever there was a Gmail outage (and I've experienced many), there wasn't much you could do except wait around, read hundreds of tweets from users griping about the outage, and trust that Google was fixing the problem. Once I did actually send an email to Google during an outage, but I never heard back. I didn't expect to.
Chrome OS is different, though. You think you feel stranded now when your email goes down? Imagine your entire computer, and all of your files and contacts are suddenly completely inaccessible. A "We're Working On It" message is no longer going to suffice. Alongside Chrome, Google had better also launch 24/7 phone and email support.
9. Maintain Strict Control Over Your Privacy
I've written about Google and privacy in the past [http://www.popsci.com/grouse/article/2008-10/can-i-have-my-ssn-back], so I'm not going to go into too much detail here. But, with Chrome, the amount of personal info Google has access to is absolutely unprecedented. If you already use both Gmail and Google search, the company knows who you are, who you know and what kinds of sites you visit. If you use Google Maps, Calendar or Docs, the company knows where you are, where you're going, what you're doing and what you're working on. By using Chrome, you're tying all of this information into every single little thing you can imagine using a computer for. And these days, that's just about everything. Scary.
10. Ditch Your Current Desktop OS Entirely
A lot of folks took the announcement of Chrome as a direct swipe at Microsoft. Some couldn't help but label the new OS a Windows killer. But, let's calm down. First of all, I don't think Chrome intends to replace Windows--at least not in the short term. I think it intends to snap up a rather small group of adventurous users who realize they don't need a hulking desktop OS for the majority of their day-to-day computing tasks.
Secondly, Windows 7 has been specifically built to be lightweight with the next generation of netbooks in mind, and by the time Chrome surfaces, Windows 7 will have already been on the market for 9-12 months. Third, let us not forget the droves of people who returned Linux-based netbooks last year after taking them home and realizing they missed Windows. Never underestimate people's fear of the unknown.
So, what's Chrome? It's something different, and to use it will require getting used to doing things very differently than you do now. If there's one thing to take away from the announcement, it's something Bob Sutor, IBM's VP of Linux and Open Source said to me in a conversation earlier this week. "It brings into sharper focus the fact that much of the work people do today is on the web. But on the same token, it brings into sharp focus the fact that a lot of work people do is not on the Web."
I agree, there are just too many tasks and applications that require the power of a windows desktop operating system to run. Speech recognition comes to mind with its CPU intensive requirements.
It sounds like something I would not use.
Linux or WinOS I guess for now
I have a Macbook, and even though I have Windows installed as well as MacOS, I hardly ever use Windows, because the MacOS music software is something I use more often than the programming environment in Windows, and I doubt there will be a Chrome version of Finale or Digital Performer.
You seemed to be reaching to come up with some of these criticisms.
1. Google said that the "familiar file-handling schema of traditional os's" would be gone. This doesn't necessarily mean that there will be no local storage. They might be setting the OS up with a completely tagged based storage system. This would make sense for the king of search, since the point of such a method of organization is that when you need a "file", you type into your search box a few details of what your looking for, and it returns relevant files. No need to remember folder hierarchy. Google "tag based filesystem" to learn more.
2. If you need apps that can't be found in your browser, then Chrome OS is not for you. Just like if you need to go offroading, a corolla is not for you...
3.This is a subset of 2.
4. This is also a subset of two. But see http://www.quakelive.com/ A "Fragging" game that runs in current browsers.
5. I think there will be offline storage, see my answer to 1
6. The OS is a web browser. Asking what your iPod will sync with doesn't make any sense. Do you currently use your (insert device here) with your web browser? If yes (printers, etc.) then expect it to work (linux, contrary to what a lot of people think, has pretty damn good support for most devices, printers, etc.) Asking whether your iPod will sync with Chrome OS is like asking if your toaster will. What would you do with it?
7. An interesting point if there is no offline storage. If there is, then it's moot.
8. You seem to be saying that "if google goes down, what can I do with my Chrome OS pc"? I would say "browse the rest of the internet". even if Google is obliterated off the face of the earth, if you have their operating system loaded on your PC, it will still function as a web browser. As for tech support - linux distributions do not offer tech support either - but that doesn't stop millions of people and thousands of organizations from using them everyday (redhat, canonical, etc excepted, of course)
9. If you already have a problem with google's current services because of security, then this OS isn't really for you. Also, this isn't a "computing task", its a security concern.
10. This isn't a criticism, this is a conclusion paragraph.
By no means is this an operating system.
Eric Hansen - Stop being ignorant. For someone that know sit all, you clearly don't know that both Windows and Macs are Personal Computers. If a Mac isn't personal, what the hell is it and why should I buy it?
I assume you are referring to my typo, where I stated "6. The OS is a web browser." It was supposed to read "6. The CHROME OS is fundamentally a web browser."
Other than that, I have no idea what your mini-rant is about.
Anyway, Windows is an operating system, not a Personal Computer. Microsoft does not make Personal Computers.
I know, I know, don't feed the trolls.
I have to agree with at least some of the original article
5. Work offline -- doesn't matter if you have local storage if your apps are in the 'cloud'.
8.If Google goes down, and I was doing a bit of word processing or running a spreadsheet, I might be a bit annoyed. I might wish to contact support, just as might if my electricity went off. Yes, I can still 'probably ' browse, but I might really need to do other things.
9. Privacy ( and security) are OS related if not exactly 'computing tasks'. With a chrome OS, how can you have any concept of private data. It's ALL processed in the cloud. Even if Google is pure as the driven snow about snooping, it still puts massive amounts of information in a public arena. From a security standpoint, the concept is astonishing.
It sounds like most of the problems, or things you can't do with the chrome OS, aren't things that Chrome won't let you do, but rather there is just not an industry for them yet, so they're not currently available. Finally bringing a cloud-based operating system to the mainstream may not be extremely useful at first, but it will initiate the development of the hardware, software, user interfaces, and web standards that will likely be the future of computing. Don't forget, just because the OS is made to utilize the cloud, that doesn't mean it will completely abandon and not use the internal resources available. Currently a windows pc is designed to rely on internal computing and has internet capability, Google is trying to flip that around, so the computer will be designed to rely on the internet, but will also have some internal computing capabilities.
In response to the commenters, CPU intensive apps will eventually run in the cloud, where the processing will be done on a server, and you get the results. Also, I'm pretty sure Finale and Digital performer already have web-based applications.
Anyway, the real benefit of the Chome OS is to encourage the development of internet based applications, and it will likely birth the solutions to many of our current computing deficiencies.
can you imagine, your quad core processor reduced to a few Mb/s just because of a slow internet connection!!!!! what are they thinking?!?!?!?!?! I would have pointed this out sooner but comments weren't available on the first post. someone please tell me why this OS is a good idea! why would I want all my data in the cloud were I can't due anything like increase performance by upgrading hardware. Further more I have used Google docs when platform compatibly was a problem. I was always frustrated by slowness and lake of features. Also, will they care if they lose some of your data and you suffer losses because they can't get it back or they don't recover it on time? The world today is have it now or lose your chance. "Sorry, Google lost my resume can I get back to you next week" won't cut it. Is Google worthy of that responsibility?
I personally can't trust Google with my files. I've used their Google Docs thing and it was too limited for me, I'd rather write the program for a word editing program by hand then use this Chrome OS.
First, this isn't an OS for computers with quad processors - its a netbook OS. Second, internet connections are becoming exceedingly fast especially in highly populated areas. Third, nobody at Google has said that you can't save any files internally, so your important documents will always be safe.
Yes there's still plenty to complain about, Google doc's isn't nearly as advanced as Microsoft word which has been around and getting updated constantly since the early '80's, but the software will only improve once it goes mainstream. If you notice what any of the new updates to word are, they are specifically trying to advance their online compatibility, and file sharing systems, which Google Docs already has on lock.
When will you be returning from vacation?
"Here are ten copmuting tasks..."
EcoHolic} What is a "copmuting task"?
"6. Have All Your Hardware Work Seamlessly...
Up to now, Google’s hasn’t..."
EcoHolic} Yikes. Try again.
"web" v. "Web" -- pick one and marry it. (AP & CMS prefer "Web")
EcoHolic} Every single article -- headlines, teases, body...sad.
Don't ditch the current desktop, ditch google. The first hacker to use modified google algorithm to break into the memory banks will make alot of people wonder why the hell they trusted google. Chrome is shit! Dont give google a dime!
This is a technological trap to the nth degree. I see a endless myriad of problems with cloud computing that benefit nothing to anybody except hosts, hackers, terrorist, and the government. If you like the idea of cloud computing, then you like the idea of all your personal work and data in the hands of every google tech and even the company receptionist. Ones argument for cloud computing must be.. why worry about losing my work and identity, when I can just give it away. That copyright or patent request ain't gonna do ya much good after some enterprising google employee notices your million dollar idea and decides he'd rather not work for a living anymore cause it is now his million dollar idea and he has the patent to prove it. My data is on my system. For you to get it means you have to get past my firewall, install your malware, get past my encryptions, and hope I don't catch your program reporting back to you. Even then you only have access to what your malware is programmed to access. For you to get *ALL* my data in a cloud, all you have to do is hack my password. Duhhh. Also, if you like the idea of cloud computing, then you also like idea of working slower and slower. IP's are complaining that a small percentage of file sharers are hogging the majority of their bandwidth. Whats gonna happen when EVERYBODY becomes a 'file sharer' with every file they have? You also realize the video streamers are just getting started dontcha? And as it's been pointed out, what's going to happen when there's a outage? Your new high tech 'dumb terminal' is going to need a host ya know. And screw hacking your little pc. Hackers are gonna hack EVERYBODY in one shot! And what about that disgruntled google employee? Terrorists are now drooling at the prospect that we are consolidating all our resources into one handy target. In this age of identity theft, I CANNOT believe that somebody would trust ANY their info to be in one place (accept their home). Even a TRUSTED place (cause there is no such thing). Its unfathomable! What OS and processors do you think goggles runnin right now? Would that be the easily hackable combination of Windows on Intel? Just one hacker access into a major hosts password file and cloud computing will be gone forever. Along with that company. It WILL happen. Cloud computing will prove itself to be a 'company ender' and these companies are racing to beat each other to that end. Which they FULLY DESERVE for trying to pull such a stunt. Cloud computing has got to be the most irresponsable concept ever put forth by ANY industry. It is a gigantic backwards step in the evolution of information security at a time when information security is almost non-existent. It is a inherently flawed concept that benefits NOBODY but hackers, terrorist, the government, and hosting companies (till they get hacked that is). Cloud computing will only be used by two groups of people.. people who believe tabloids, and full blown certifiable idiots.
Why on earth would I trust Google with my confidential data? Let's face it they would eventually sell that data to the highest bidder in profiles that could match me to marketing campaigns. Wait they do that now!
The best firewall is no connection.
Do you think games like <a href="http://www.pkrgame.com">pkr</a> will ever be online in the browser with chrome!
While Chrome OS looks interesting, I don't think I'll be replacing my desktop OS anytime soon. Maybe if I get a Netbook...
Editor and builder of http://www.toyreviewworld.com
well then its gonna suck, make it better google!
It seems very interesting and extremely portable.
The oddest thing about web based computing is that it ignores the trend of cheaper and faster hardware over time; that is, Moore's law. The little netbooks that can't run fullblown OS's now will be able to in a year or two; even your phone will more than likely be capable of running a full OS within 5 years. Why waste all of the computing power of these devices when you can use it to do interesting and useful things?
Google is really pushing Microsoft.
I agree with you. I'm see this more an more on popsci and other online publishers. It seems to me they are often just pulling stories from other sources and throwing them online without any edits. I think that publishers arn't actually paying journalists to do real research anymore. This website isn't getting the editorial attention that the print version is getting.
- Stories missing important details
- Spelling errors and formatting errors
- Too much POP not enough science.
- Wikipedia is too often considered a source of information for journalists. (http://arstechnica.com/media/news/2009/05/wikipedia-hoax-reveals-limits-of-journalists-research.ars)
- too much old news
It's time to start raising the bar POPSCI!
This discussion seems an effort to reduce the thick vs thin client issue to an either/or choice when this is not necessarily the case.
So long as the supporting OS that the Chrome browser is running on can do all the needed browser support and so long as Google don't arbitrarily limit the usefulness of the Chrome browser when running in Windows or OS X or some form of Linux, then there is no issue here. I don't think Google are motivated to introduce such limits as they have not behaved that way so far and it would be in their best interest to have the maximum number of clients whether thick or thin as more web use equals more advertising opportunities.
These cloud and local universes could coexist on any thick client. You would have constant availability of choice to do public work in the public cloud with less uptime and privacy and reserve private work on the client OS with the corresponding increase in uptime and privacy. Think of the cloud OS as email on steroids. Google Wave gives an early glimpse of how this could work.
It doesn't have to come down to the false choice of all one or all the other.
Think of this as evolutionary change with evolution driven by appropriate workability monitoring survival.
semibreve42 is a superhero
Of course chrome is limited, it's not supposed to be the end-all solution for everyone (no matter what pablum the Google marketing department is pumping out to thrill investors). It will be a loooooong time before clound computing catches up with just plain computing, and by then we'll have been through hundreds of different iterations of dozens of different operating systems. But we won't be able to get there without being here first, stumbling blindly through a maze of twisty passages all alike. The web isn't even as old as Lindsey Lohan yet we expect it too to make perfect and well-reasoned decisions every step of the way. Let's face it, the web is going to have to go through growing pains just like every other adolescent technology and the sooner we stop griping about it and appreciate it for it's truly mind-blowing potential the sooner our blood pressures can drop back down to a healthy level.