Google’s Chrome OS has been tentatively released in a "pilot program" for testers who will receive a Cr-48 Chrome Notebook. To receive the notebook, one must apply to beta–err pilot test the forthcoming operating system.
Google has apparently already signed deals with Acer and Samsung to release laptops in 2011 with Chrome OS pre-installed, and I believe that the Cr-48 will be commercially available as well. That will more than likely be the Cr-49 or 50, after the testing has been completed, but you get the idea.
So as you probably know, Chrome OS is a cloud-based OS. in other words, it’s really no more than a self-contained Internet browser. It’s designed purely for people that use their computers exclusively for internet access. Any applications that need to be run will be cloud-based apps accessed through the browser.
Ignoring my previously stated skepticism of cloud-computing and Google’s cloud-based apps, my question here is will there be a market for this OS and more specifically, a market for the coming Chrome OS notebooks? Because the OS is a Linux distro, will it have any impact on Linux and the Linux community?
Well first of all, I don’t see it being widely adopted as a desktop OS. It’s not designed for that. There are many cloud-based OSes out there already and they are not being used on the desktop. Again, that is not the design of the software. That leaves it for laptops and netbooks. But I think this is a mistake. I don’t see netbooks being around for much longer and laptops need a complete operating system, or they’re just a waste of space and money. If the OS was redesigned for a tablet that would be something else. Cloud computing on a tablet I can understand. A tablet doesn’t need any more power than to make some quick adjustments to a document while on the go, or a quick status update to friends or an employer as you head across town to a meeting (and maybe a video or two on a flight).
That being said, I don’t think that there are enough cloud apps available to justify the OS operating completely through a web browser. And the apps that are available are too limited for any kind of professional work. As an illustration, lets take a look at the Chrome Web Store. If you are using the Chrome or Chromium web browser, you can try this out for yourself.
I won’t go into the pros and cons of the store itself (there is a lot I could say to criticize it); I’ll just talk about the apps available. In the productivity menu (we’re assuming professional use here) let’s look for an image editing application. Right now a featured app is the "Advanced Image Editor by Aviary". After selecting it, we are prompted to install it. The "installation" brings us to a web page: http://www.aviary.com/online/image-editor?lang=en#&src=chromeos. I am truly surprised at the features it has. There are several filters and tools available, and you can even work in layers. That is very good for a web application. But as a professional solution? It will never replace GIMP’s functionality and is light years behind Photoshop. I’m really not even sure if it’s decent for a hobbyist. Why use this when GIMP is free? For those who want only to make quick edits for uploading to Facebook, fine, but in no way is this a professional solution.
The same website (Aviary.com) has another link from the app store for music creation. And again I’m surprised at the sophistication in a web application. This one had some minor issues (drag and dropping instruments into tracks was extremely sluggish), but on the whole I have to say nicely done. There is a wide variety of instruments to choose from and supports importing your own sounds. But again, this is not a professional solution. LMMS, Ardour, and others are completely free and and have way more features.
I’d like to look at one more app. This time I’ll move away from the productivity category and move to entertainment. Let’s try one of the games.
The first game that caught my eye was Runescape (it was featured). I’ve never really been into MMOs so I wouldn’t really be able to give an unbiased opinion of it, but I would love to hear from anyone who does play that type of game. The graphics impressed me only in the fact that it was played through a browser. In comparison to other games it only would be impressive if you played it 6 or 7 years ago.
I did actually try Quake Live which was also in the store. However, in spite of the fact that it is available in the store, it does not work with Chrome. This app only works with IE 7+ or Firefox 2.0+. I’m assuming that since it is in the store that it will soon support Chrome (and thus Chromium) so I gave it a go.
The graphics quality of Quake Live lies somewhere between Quake 2 and Quake Arena. It plays very well, and the gameplay is very reminiscent of of Quake 3 Arena or Unreal Tournament.
On top of the free to play model, there are 2 subscription-based options for playing, the Premium Membership for $1.99/month and the Pro Membership for $3.99/month. The monthly fees are not worth it in my opinion. A game like this for purchase is worth at most $10.00 (being so dated) so I can’t imagine paying a monthly fee for this. The breakdown of the different subscriptions can be found here.
To go back to my earlier statement about Chrome OS being better suited for a tablet than a notebook, I’ll grant that a FPS would be more difficult on a touchscreen. But at the moment it’s not even compatible with the OS so I don’t know what to say here.
So, being in a beta still, it’s hard to say if this will be a success or not. My thought is that it doesn’t deserve to be as it stands, but it does have the Google name behind it so who can really say? Perhaps if they go the sane route and at least put in a virtual keyboard for those who want to install it on a tablet I might be a little more optimistic.
There is still the big elephant in the room however. I’m referring to Google’s habit of collecting data. Now this is open source, so if Google is collecting data right from the OS itself, we will soon know about it. But since all usage of this OS centers around your data being kept on a server "somewhere out there" I just cannot get behind it. There is no source code to look at from the web-based apps, and you can be sure that the user is not the only one that has access to the files stored in the cloud. But in this case my personal feelings are irrelevant.
Let’s pretend for a minute that this really takes off and overtakes iOS as a popular OS on the Internet. Will this help legitimize Linux for the masses as a viable choice on their PCs? Again I can’t help but be a pessimist. Android OS is currently more prolific than iOS for smartphones. Yet most people using Android don’t even know they are using Linux. I feel that will be the same here. Google isn’t going to go out of their way to tell people where the OS really comes from, or to inform people about free or open source software. They will push their brand name and tell people they are using Google. That’s it.
And that’s honestly a good thing. Google’s business practice contradicts what free and open source is all about and I really wouldn’t want the two being associated together. Linux will keep chugging along at its own pace. With the improvements and growth Linux has made in the last few years, it doesn’t need a name like Google behind it anyway. Linux is doing perfectly well on its own.