Chrome OS is the Future… and Could Be the Now

Published on Author Eli Fennell

Google thinks that the future of operating systems is based around the web browser.  I think they’re right, and I think it could also become the dominant operating system, if they play their hand right.  In case you’ve never heard of it, Chrome OS is an operating system whose only native software is an enhanced Google Chrome web browser.

Google thinks that the future of operating systems is based around the web browser. Click To Tweet

No other native software can be installed, which makes it virtually invulnerable to viruses and other traditional forms of malware.  At present it is available on an assortment of notebook computers called Chromebooks, but unlike the browser it’s based on has not become a dominant force.

To date Chromebooks have not really taken off, although fire sale discounts have helped to move larger numbers of units as it did for HP Touchpads and Blackberry Playbooks.  The idea behind the Chrome OS goes back to before it was ever a viable technology, but Google probably knew this on some level when they launched the first generations of Chromebooks.

High speed internet is now becoming ubiquitous, the browser technology has evolved, and cloud computing has emerged as a viable market that threatens to topple most of the cornerstones of traditional computing, all of which, I think, finally makes Chrome OS viable, and Google and partners seem to agree.  HTC may be planning to launch a Chrome/Android hybrid tablet in 2012, and there are rumors of Chrome tablets.

I think Google always assumed that Android itself was a step towards a browser-based computing experience.  Android has shown innovation but has hardly blown away the competition in this regard, though Ice Cream Sandwich may change this dynamic.  The Chrome browser has left the competition in the dust for innovation, precisely because Google regards the browser as the computing and development platform of the future.  Why shouldn’t they?  Browsers have been their bread and butter.

Android itself was a step towards a browser-based computing experience.Click To Tweet
Users spend more than 90% of their time on either a web browser or software that connects to the internet.  Cloud computing is replacing traditional computing, even replacing traditional desktop systems with Desktop as a Service (DaaS), which may be a mortal threat to Microsoft’s licensing scheme, since it could allow a relatively small number of server PC’s to provide Windows service, via the cloud, to countless consumers.

Most importantly, high speed internet connections on demand are becoming ubiquitous.  Between Wifi, 3G/4G/4G LTE, nationwide broadband initiatives, and other forms of high speed wireless internet, an increasing number of users are rarely, if ever, without a high speed connection.  This is absolutely essential to convincing people to dive into a browser-centric OS.

Google Chrome has an app market; Google Voice offers telephone service; Google offers a Cloud Print service that was developed with Chrome in mind; Chrome is the first browser to support native console-quality gaming, controllers, and even technology like OnLive, all within the browser itself; Chrome offers the best support for Google’s SPDY, an increasingly popular HTTP replacement.  Chrome is fast becoming the uncontested innovator in browser technology.

Combine the innovations that Google will bring to Chrome, the web, and high speed internet over the next few years, and it won’t be as hard to sell a browser-based device if they sell it right.  But here’s what Google and partners could do to push it forward right at this moment:

1) Chrome/Android Hybrids – The selling point here is obvious: All the native functionality of Android, with the full web experience of Chrome, which can bring a full browser to a mobile device.  To make this work, vendors will need to maintain healthy update cycles for Android; Chrome updates silently from Google, so no problem there.  They will also need to ensure seamless transition between the two states; it should require only a single button push or screen touch to switch, and should take seconds at most.

Update: Google has released Chrome Beta for Android, which isn’t a separate OS like on Chromebooks, but rather a native browser for Android.  This may disrupt plans for hybrid systems, but in theory there will still be advantages for speed, security, etc… in developing dual-boot hybrids.

2) Cheap Devices and Mobile Data Plans – Chrome devices should be much less expensive, since their software is by nature less expensive, and it shouldn’t need powerful hardware for most uses.  Chrome may use more data because it offers a full web experience, and they will need affordable data plans.  A pure Chrome device should save significant data (and processing) because it is an efficient browser and uses cloud computing, but this can’t be taken for granted.

3) Native Hardware Capability – Google shouldn’t wait for HTML5 to catch up to native hardware support, they should build it directly into Chrome wherever possible.  They are, in fact, doing this.

4) Stellar Advertising Campaigns – Google is getting better at promoting Chrome, with their whimsical commercials showing that Chrome requires no setup, no virus protection, etc…  Cross-promotion with the browser itself would be a further selling point, and Chrome browser advertisements are already effective.  Google and its partners need to work hard to sell the idea to consumers beyond touting ease of use.  What would be the best selling point?  Ease of use and the ability to do anything and everything you can do on any traditional computing device (see below), combined with high speed internet on demand.

5) The Cloud Replacing Traditional Computing – If a third-party like Amazon can offer affordable subscription access to desktop systems like Windows, Macintosh, and Linux, this makes the idea of transitioning to Chrome OS more feasible.  The selling point here is equally obvious: for less than you would spend on a desktop OS, you can subscribe to a cloud service that duplicates this with browser-or-app-based virtualization.  Who needs an actual Windows computer if you can use Windows software at any time, any place, on a much more affordable, faster, and more secure and efficient Chrome device?

Who needs Windows if you can use Windows software?Click To Tweet

These are, I believe, five keys to the success of the Chrome Operating System, if Google and partners are truly committed to making it happen.  Seamless offline capability is another that I could add, but there are already great strides being made in this direction by HTML5 developers, including the developers at Google.   What do you think?  Are you prepared to take the leap to a browser-based operating system?  If not, what would a browser-based operating system, like Chrome, need to offer to sway your opinion?  Post your comments below.

I love technology and how it changes our lives. There's something almost spiritual about how new technologies connect and empower us. And it's really cool, too.

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