Google Chrome OS: More and Better Web Apps on The Way?

1Executive Summary

Google’s recent announcement that it’s to start working on a new lightweight open source operating system, Google Chrome OS —  Chrome running on top of the Linux kernel, with the browser basically becoming the OS — has garnered plenty of attention in the media recently (there’s a roundup of our network coverage here). But the gist of it is this: netbooks running Chrome OS (its initial target platform — although it looks like Google isn’t only targeting netbooks) will effectively be “web app optimized,” running web apps in preference to native applications (with, apparently, instant access to applications like email).

That means Chrome OS could herald a slew of new web apps taking advantage of of the performace offered by a lightning-fast web app OS. The entire OS will effectively be a highly-optimized browser, without any desktop cruft to slow it down. Chrome (the browser) is already fast — by far the fastest browser available currently. But by stripping everything else away, we should see web apps that feel much more like native desktop applications.

This is great news for web workers, who increasingly rely on complex web applications to get their work done. Faster web apps are obviously a good thing in and of themselves if you rely on them for your productivity, but, perhaps even more importantly, it’s good news for developers, who will be able to produce increasingly diverse, complex and powerful web apps.

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  1. Stacey Higginbotham Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    Simon, where do programs like Google Gears or Adobe’s Air fit into all of this? Presumably they become more improtant for offline access to web apps when the user is not connected, but even by 2010 when Chrome OS should be released, we’re still going to have patchy broadband coverage.

    1. Gears is a super-important part of Google’s attempt to get everyone comfortable using web apps. I’m not sure we’ve seen it used to its fullest yet, either — Offline Gmail is cool, but (for example) WordPress see to only use Gears to improve performance, rather than provide true offline support. Presumably Gears will be baked into Chrome OS.

      Personally, I don’t really like AIR – it’s a memory hog and I quite like my web apps to sit in my browser, but it is another option for ensuring web aps don’t fall over when connectivity is unavailable.

  2. I am a bit skeptical of Chrome OS’s necessity, to be honest, and have to wonder why they just didn’t port Android. If we are talking about moving more compute to the cloud and the browser becoming the front-end for so much of the applications we are talking about, I have to wonder why Google wouldn’t just standardize on one OS like Apple has done with OS X for all its client efforts. I think Android for one device type and Chrome OS for another just creates confusion, quite honestly, especially since they’re both on top of a Linux kernel.

    1. Yes, I agree – I was surprised, particularly as Android should work pretty well as an OS for netbooks, I would have thought. There was also the suspicious timing of the announcement to consider (but I am getting off-topic).

  3. Kiran Nataraj Thursday, July 16, 2009

    I think Netbooks is a segment, not unlike the smartphone segment, that could do with the iPhone effect. While Chrome (like Android) would do reasonably well – would be great if Google does focus on the hardware as well – to get a more complete product out.
    Netbooks also fit in nicely with the resurgence of the thin client computing arch (aka Cloud) and SaaS models; so if positioned correctly, Chrome can help be at the forefront of some of the sales force web apps that would help netbooks take off…

    1. Its an interesting proposal, Kiran – the idea of Google taking ownership of the entire product. I think that they’ll like stay away from becoming a true hardware manufacturer since they’re more interested in being omnipresent on devices in mobile, so being a platform for software and services seems the more likely long-term solution, as getting into hardware would likely alienate its partners in the handset market.

  4. IMHO Chrome OS is a misnomer. Chrome is not the OS. OS is not inside Chrome. It is at best a tight bundle of LAMP+Chrome. This is already possible today. Just install any flavor of Linux without the graphical interface and run any of the available standards based browsers to get your own “OS”. But, this is certainly a clever strategy to make MS and others go helter skelter trying to figure out how to counter this phenomenon.

    raj

    1. Yes, I agree – calling it a Chrome operating system might be a stretch.

  5. James Kendrick Thursday, July 16, 2009

    I think it’s a branding thing. Google is known to everyone and a laptop “by Google” is a much easier sell than a Linux version. This is not aimed at geeks who know about these things, this is all about reaching the mainstream market where the numbers are huge.

    1. That’s a great point, James. A non-tech savvy punter might struggle with the idea of buying a Linux netbook — but a Google netbook sounds much more familiar. Even my mother would be happy with one!
      For Google, the more mainstream users they can get using Chrome OS and using Google Apps, the more people they have viewing their ads.

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