Thursday, July 09, 2009

Google ChromeOS

Okay, let's lay things out. (1) If you have an open mind, keep reading. If you have already made a decision that Google Chrome OS is NOT going to be anything but short of a game changer, stop reading and move along. If you're willing to listen to why the nay-sayers that are being so vocal against Chrome OS could be wrong... read on.

One of the common statements that has been made about Chrome OS and "why it will fail" is that it is a "crippled" operating system that can only run web applications. Others have commented that it will be "100% locked down and that they couldn't create a secure system without locking it down completely." Succinctly put, a commenter on CrunchGear's post "Why we need to chill about ChromeOS" says, "there's 1001 things a chromeOS can't do that a conventional OS can."

So, to address this, let's really take a look at what Chrome OS is... lets not take flame war banter for our evidence. Instead, lets take a look at the only official information about Chrome OS, the Google Blog posting about it. They stated:
"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."

Now, lets just be clear, did they say that you would only have the ability to run a web browser? No. Instead, they identified that Google Chrome (a Google sponsored distribution of webkit based open source web browser project, Chromium) will be running (and I'm adding extra emphasis here for those that are a bit slower) WITHIN a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. So, Chrome could be running alongside other applications that can run on the selected platform (x86 or ARM) and within the new windowing system. Does that mean that we will be running other applications? Not necessarily... we don't know. Does it mean that we could be running other applications, signs point to yes.

The big question will be, how "new" will the new windowing system be? Will it break from the X11 windowing standards which have been the basis of window managers for decades? If so, will other applications still work? If not, will there be easy ways of porting applications? If the "new windowing system," or window manager, is friendly to applications that can run under other window managers, everything should continue to work.

What is a Window Manager?
Wikipedia: A window manager is system software that controls the placement and appearance of windows within a windowing system in a graphical user interface.
There are other definitions, but we'll stop there because they are all sufficiently similar. Please note that there are several window managers that will operate on top of the Linux kernel. Gnome and KDE are just the two most well-known out there. So, this would be yet another "windowing system" to run on top of the Linux kernel. The focus of which would be the total integration of the web into the desktop.

How could this be done? Imagine having web pages able to be displayed as we have come grown accustomed to files within folders? Perhaps consider the idea of the web being a background for local files. These things were part of the focus of integrating Internet Explorer into the operating system back in Windows 95. Anybody remember "active desktop"? I see it coming back but with even more integration into the surrounding operating system.

My Prediction

My prediction is that you'll still be able to use non-web applications. Google isn't about hamstringing people. They want information to be accessible. You don't make more information accessible by cutting off access to the old way of doing things. You build bridges. If you can bring the web further into the scope of the desktop, you make it easier for the information that all of us have been holding onto for years (from photos, documents and videos) in digital form to leak out onto the web. I have gigabytes of pictures that have gone un-shared with family and friends because of the hassle associated with transitioning them to a usable web site that can handle that data size. If Google Chrome OS can take care of that kind of problem (and I think that is their aim) then I'm all for it succeeding.

What about Gaming and Other CPU Intensive Operations?

Again, I sincerely believe that Google is not aiming to kill the desktop completely. If they are, I'm in the same boat as the nay-sayers that think this is destined for the dogs. Instead, I think they're aiming to make the desktop web-centric. Make your first stop the web... then come back to your local world as necessary. I believe that the "as necessary" will decrease over the years. OpenGL has been implemented in web pages. Your music collection can be stored online. Your videos too. Spreadsheets? Google Spreadsheets. Word Processing? Google Docs. Pictures? Google Picasa. Email? Gmail. There are answers everywhere. Many people, however, will point out that web applications just aren't quite "there" yet. I would agree. I still write large documents
(250+ pages) within OpenOffice. Why? Google Docs still doesn't give the flexibility I want/need for image placement and other desktop publishing type of tasks. That is just one example. There are still many short comings of web based applications. However, the gap is narrowing... and quickly.

My question for you is: "What's really tying you to your desktop?"


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