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Chromed Out: What Google's Chrome OS means to CIOs

Patrick Gray lets the dust settle on the Google Chrome OS announcement and takes a practical look at what the OS might mean for CIOs.

After reading Google's announcement of its upcoming Chrome OS last month and the breathless commentary that followed in the IT press, one could be excused for being somewhat shocked not to find a "For Sale" sign in front of Microsoft or Apple's headquarters buildings. As with any trendy new technology, or announcement from an industry darling, it seems the pundits trip over themselves to make the most shocking predictions.

From claims that this will be a "nuclear bomb" for Microsoft, to predicting the demise of industry favorite Apple, Chrome OS' announcement was a fine example of the IT press at its worst: bombastic, overblown, and grandiloquent. Now that some of the smoke has cleared and it turns out that the planets are still spinning about the sun, and Windows and OS X have yet to disappear from the market, we can ask, "Does Chrome OS matter?"

Like most vaporware, we know relatively little about Chrome OS at this point. Google tells us that it will be based on Linux, and essentially be enough of an operating system to quickly load a Web browser and little else. It should "just work," and be lean and secure enough that that users are essentially unaware of the underlying OS and do all their work in a Web browser. All Chrome OS applications are Web applications, and by extension Gmail, Google's suite of productivity applications, and any other Web application that works with the current Chrome Web browser should work in Chrome OS.

Thin-client computing redux?

Call this observer crazy, but haven't we been talking about Web-based applications for a couple of decades, and thin clients for even longer? While Google's announcement attempts to put a veneer of newness on the concepts behind Chrome OS, the idea of using "lean" hardware to run applications from a central server is hardly groundbreaking, and has met with fairly minimal success in the past.

While at this point Chrome OS does not purport to be targeted at corporate users, one cannot help but assume Google will eventually target the OS in this direction, for no reason other than that corporate users have large wallets, and this is the model they have perused with their productivity suite. Since Chrome OS is essentially the 2010 version of thin client computing, if you currently have users who are always connected to the corporate network, and a suite of Web-based applications; essentially operating in a thin-client environment already, Chrome OS might be a winner for you.

Getting the backing of a large company like Google may be the push that thin-client computing, in its previous guises, may have missed, and the availability of commodity hardware (netbooks and other cheap PCs based on Intel's Atom technology) with a well-supported and maintenance-free OS may be the ticket you've been waiting for. Call centers, warehouses, and corporate kiosks may be perfect for Chrome.

The big questions Chrome OS fails to answer in the corporate environment are around disconnected use, security, and application maturity. Look at the number of notebooks in most companies, and it is clear that disconnected computing is a very valid usage scenario. I personally spend far more time than I would like on airplanes, and have come to value the "disconnected" time to weed through my inbox, write, or bang out a presentation. How Chrome OS will work when disconnected from a network connection is an open question.

The latter two problems are inter-related and already familiar. Most of Google's Web applications store their data "in the cloud," which presents its own set of security questions. Despite dire predictions about the quick defeat of Microsoft's ubiquitous Office application suite, Google Apps has yet to light the world on fire. While many suspect foul play on the part of Microsoft, for the most part, it is due to the simple fact that Office is a mature product, and frankly works pretty well, while Google Docs is still very much a distant competitor maturity-wise.

At the end of the day, if you have considered a "thin-client" type of computing scenario within your company, with all its pros and cons, Chrome OS may be the final piece of the puzzle. It purports to use the mature Linux kernel as its core, offers the backing of a tech giant, and should run all those Web applications you already have. If this model is not applicable to your company, at this point Chrome OS will do little more for corporate computing than clog up the IT airwaves with further speculation and bloviation for the foreseeable future.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

11 comments
The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

there is nothing to consider! Besides what company is going to let an OS talk to another company as they work. :-) :-) :-) :-) Cheerio IP!

adh773
adh773

Why do we always have the Mac and Linux Boys on these polls. Maybe its because those that have any sense are gearing up for the arrival of Win 7.

bastien
bastien

I would expect an expansion of the google fears to help the 'disconnected' along and allow use of many of the browser based tools

leeweenam
leeweenam

Decade ago thin/web-based client didn't make due to the internet infra-structure wasn't ready then; today its speed and infra-structure are ready. Chrome OS timing just right.

natem
natem

I'd expect adoption to be good in some situations. If the location has the infrastructure then there is a chance. If you're talking about rural locations where connectivity is limited then a thin client model is not going to be very popular. Perhaps Google Gears will have an answer for disconnected computers.

mckinnej
mckinnej

Don't declare victory just yet. There are still people using dial-up. Chrome might be the worst thing ever for them.

mhopfin
mhopfin

As Microsoft works to offer a ballot screen for at least the EU version of Windows 7 it seems funny to me that Google would offer an "OS" that is so tightly bundled with their browser. What if I would prefer Opera?

adornoe
adornoe

Chrome OS, if it ever happens, is intended to work from the client side. That being the case, the client will no longer be as "thin" as originally designed because Chrome OS will be, monitoring and handling whatever you do within the browser. That sounds' like another layer and more overhead to me. And, on the client side, the user will still have their regular OS monitoring everything that the user is doing, including internet activity. So, my suggestion is to not have Chrome OS be resident in the client side. With cloud computing and remote services being the wave of the future, as some would have us believe, including Google, why not have the OS be resident at the remote location that people are dialing into? Thus, if any remote server wants to provide the functionality offered by Chrome OS, they would have it handling the incoming requests and serving the responses. So, whatever the OS was intended to do at the client side, why not have it do the same thing on the remote server side? So, when a user connects to Yahoo or to MSN or to Google, the first thing that would happen is that the cloud-based "Chrome OS" which is resident at the server, would handle the request from the client. If a browser OS is necessary, why not have it resident at the remote location where the requests are handled?

Tom-Tech
Tom-Tech

Good point, well made. Kudos.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...I'd think that any attempt at something new and different as an alternative would be welcomed by the tech community. Yes, it's vaporware. But so was Chrome at one point, and it's a pretty good browser by any objective standard. Will the Chrome OS replace Windows anytime soon? Certainly not. But will it prove to be an alternative by the middle of the next decade? We'll see.

bigpicture
bigpicture

I think that it is not before the time. Netscape had this vision about 20 years ago. MS has has the OS landscape all to itself for 25 years. There are essentially now two UI layers and app sets for PS, the windowing interface and the web browser. The windowing interface is bloated and slow but supports fairly powerful apps. The new browsers are getting fairly light and able to run more apps and more featured apps. The next logical step is to replace the windowing system with a more powerful browser and more feature complete apps. And not have two apps will run on any OS making development less of a headache. Thats the way of the future, but how long would the world have to wait for MS to go this direction. When it comes to the internet MS sucks a back teat.