7 Reasons Chrome OS Means the End of Microsoft

Yesterday Google took the wraps off its new network-only OS, “Chrome”, designed as a fast, lightweight, and super-simple way to get online. Initially targeted at netbooks and other “web-browser” laptops, Chrome is built entirely from Web technologies. In other words, there’s no proprietary languages, and hardly any “system” at all– everything is Web-based and designed with standard HTML, Javascript, AJAX and CSS.

It’s a bold move for Google to make, but a fairly obvious one for the world’s #1 Web site. And it paves the way for some massive changes in the industry. I don’t think Chrome OS (as it currently exists) will make a massive dent– it’s far too early to rely on Web technologies for virtually everything, and this is an issue Apple faced prior to having a “real” iPhone SDK. Things may have improved since 2008, but not in the areas of immersion or user experience.

  1. Chrome OS signals the end of the “fat client”– for everything but media creation

    google-chrome-logo.jpgLong ago, the idea of the “network computer” seemed like a safe bet. Store everything remotely, and access it however and wherever you want. But the idea didn’t work in practice because network technology simply couldn’t compete with dedicated local storage and performance-oriented hardware. Nowadays, Web connections are fast enough that this is less of an issue. The performance of scripting languages such as Javascript and AJAX has further improved the interactivity and immersiveness of the Web, to the point where it can “behave” more like a desktop computer. And Chrome OS leads the way in ending our dependency on a single, local terminal forever.

    There are two major areas where this is not the case: the first is in media creation, such as film, photo, music production and design studios, where massive files and precise timing, accurate tools and high-quality display or output is demanded at all stages. The second is in rural or underdeveloped areas, where broadband (or reliable broadband) is not available. However, cellular broadband has a decent shot at narrowing the performance gap, and Chrome’s launch platforms have a trick up their sleeve: 100 MB of free monthly data provided through Verizon Wireless. Couple that with a low launch price, and you have a trouble-free email machine for everyone.

    And it doesn’t run Windows.

  2. Chrome OS may not be the answer, but it’s part of the solution.

    The future is undoubtedly “in the cloud”– where personal data is accessible anywhere. Whether Chrome provides the best means for doing this, or whether it’s a simple blip on the radar, remains to be seen… but it’s on the right track.
    Microsoft has a poor track record of integrating proper sync tools and useful means of accessing information. They have also consistently failed at search– both on the Web and on the desktop (Windows Search, anyone?). It is unplausible– and essentially unbelievable– to imagine that they could emerge with a solution that rivals Google’s.
  3. Chrome OS heralds the end of local storage.

    With massive Dropboxes, network storage, Amazon S3, and a million other newcomers, it’s clear that online storage is the way forward. It’s backed up reliably, it’s safe, it’s encrypted, and it’s as far as possible from your child’s spilled orange juice, your home’s collapsed roof, and the million stresses of “life in local”. Previously, large amounts of online storage were unfeasible, but all of that is changing. In the future, you might carry a copy of your data, but it’s definitely not the only copy.
    If no one stores their data on their computer, who loses? Not Apple, who focuses on software purchases linked from an iTunes account. Not Google, who has all your data anyway. But Microsoft– who has pushed billions into ownership of a “personal computer”– would have no ground to stand on.
  4. Chrome OS makes the computer disappear– and not the way Apple does.

    Everyone is trying to make people forget about computers. The only company that doesn’t get this is Microsoft. (Except for Windows Phone 7, in which it seems they have–in a big way).
    Chrome’s focus is on turning Web browsing into “the computer” experience. By doing this, Web designers become the main creative force in software. By removing the system as much as possible, Chrome compels users to store and access their data via Web-based controls.
    google-chrome-logo-inspiration.jpgIn contrast, Apple’s way of “hiding the beast” is in immersive, custom-designed, task-based software. The programming is dense, sophisticated, and capable. The hardware is built specifically for the software. And programs must be produced for (and run only on) a single platform.
    Which way is best? Apple’s method allows for a much greater level of finesse, but a much less “sync-ready” and transferrable data platform. Google’s method forgoes an emphasis on design or on enabling new modes of interaction for the ability to access everything, everywhere, through largely uninspired means. Additionally, Apple’s forays into sync territory have been underwhelming at best, but they’refar from complete. Rumor has it that their massive data center in North Carolina (which has not yet opened) will be the base by which Apple deploys their answer to these and other questions.
  5. Chrome OS will split the emerging market in two.

    Chrome OS will split the market into two groups: one, in which a controlled and monitored environment allows for proprietary, thoughtful interface design and a focus on aesthetic sensibility at the cost of being truly bleeding-edge (read: Apple), and the other, in which the “nerds” (be they from Accounting, HR, or the school website) flock to Chrome’s raw utility, total portability, and homogeneity. Now, for most people, the Chrome approach will likely win, and it’s an approach Microsoft could pursue with decent potential. But there is always a need for the value Apple provides to the experience. And there’s nothing to prevent Apple from adopting the Web with as much fervor as its done anything else: it’s just that Google will always be ahead on that front.
  6. Chrome OS can supplant Microsoft Windows in overall value and utility.

    chromecartoon.jpg

    No one who makes a living from its flaws wants toadmit this, but most people are sick and tired of Microsoft Windows. Even if they enjoy it and use it every day, the fundamental issues with a non-network, non-syncing computer give everyone a headache. Why doesn’t your smartphone share your home computer’s open tabs? Why doesn’t your work computer feel like your home machine? Why does your data always end up where you can’t get to it? The plethora of syncing software and browser extensions bears this out.

    Add to this an interface which separates you as far as possible from your content– only permitting you to look at it through proprietary, cluttered and screen-wasting, unnecessarily complex software– and you have an operating system so contrary to what people actuallywant that the entire tablet category was created in response.

    Chrome OS promises the bare minimum of “chrome” (ie. the material that surrounds content, such as a browser’s buttons and toolbars), in order to focus our attention once more on what we’re actually doing. This is the simplest definition of why Apple succeeds where others fail: they’ve been doing this, with increasing success, for many years. And for most users, Chrome’s benefits– including access to all your data, a fully-immersive “home” environment, a simple and trouble-free computer wherever they go– far outweighs the dubious advantages of running Microsoft’s mammoth operating system.

    In terms of value (both in time and money), there’s no doubt: Windows is insanely overpriced (and overkill), and Chrome OS will make a lot more people aware of that fact.

    Chrome OS will further commoditize smartphones and tablets– much as Microsoft commoditized PC hardware.

  7. In ten years, no one will give a s**t what phone you use. (You might argue no one does now, either, unless it’s made by Apple…)  Because Chrome OS isn’t tied to a carrier, a phone, or even a kind of device, it has no “home”. And in much the way that people have grown accustomed to the GMail interface and wouldn’t think to switch, people will become accustomed to Google’s interfaces for navigating their personal data. The brand, capabilities or style of phone someone uses simply won’t cross most people’s minds.

    Apple’s gotten a hell of a headstart with iOS, and singlehandedly changed our notion of what smartphones can be,  but they need to provide a compelling alternative. Chrome signals a coming battle between Apple and Google that could make every previous standards war look tame in comparison.

    Can’t wait to see it.

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