With much aplomb Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Chrome at Google unveiled two Chromebooks from Samsung and Acer at the developers' conference Google I/O.
While many are heralding the entry of Chromebooks as the next game changer cynics have a question or two about Google's strategy behind its light-weight, browser-based Chrome OS.
Chromebook ushers in an age, were users can access the apps directly through the browser rather than running apps natively thus eliminating the need to store apps on the system. Chromebook's are touted to boot faster and have battery life which lasts a day on a single charge.
The Chrome OS was designed with a three pronged agenda "speed, simplicity and security". The OS runs on top a Linux kernel.
Chrome OS has also been touted to be secure and thus does not require an anti-virus as Google claims that "Chromebooks have many layers of security built in". Google explained the security aspect in its official blog in 2009: "Unlike traditional operating systems, Chrome OS doesn't trust the applications you run. Each app is contained within a security sandbox making it harder for malware and viruses to infect your computer. Furthermore, Chrome OS barely trusts itself. Every time you restart your computer the operating system verifies the integrity of its code. If your system has been compromised, it is designed to fix itself with a reboot."
However there are certain odds stacked against the Chromebooks which could curtail its growth.
The Chrome OS is purely web-centric and thus requires users to be constantly connected to the web or in the words of Infoworld "to live full time in the cloud". However one wonders if users are willing to live in such an environment. In fact users prefer a hybrid environment where some of the data and apps are stored locally and some are stored on the cloud.
Chrome OS was crafted to take away the burden of managing the computers from the users by delegating it to Google. Informationweek quotes Google co-founder Sergey Brin who said: "The complexity of managing your computers is really torturing users out there, all of us," It's a flawed model, fundamentally. And I think Chromebooks are a new model that doesn't put the burden of managing your computer on yourself. And companies that don't use [the Chrome OS] model, I don't think will be successful."
However the question that Google faces is how many users are willing to grant complete control of their computing environment to Google.
Google is attempting to give Microsoft a run for its money. Google's aim is to be a catalyst to trigger creation of quality web apps to counter apps created for closed-walled companies like Apple and Microsoft. Chrome OS gives app developers the impetus to create refined web-based apps that can be accessed directly through the browser. Google's primary motivation is to drive the adoption of web-based apps as it will boost the market for its cloud-based apps.
Secondly Google is attempting to wean customers from a diet of closed-walled apps like Microsoft Office tools. Switching users from Microsoft Office tools to other web options has been difficult as users do not have a competing option that can waylay them to other apps. Also asking an enterprise to switch to a different app requires offering similar efficiency and cost benefits. Running apps remotely offers the cost benefit by eliminating license costs but efficiency is something that web-apps have failed to deliver. Currently the best that Google can offer is Google Docs which is not of the same stature as Microsoft Office suite.
Web apps are also hosted by other devices
Google does not hold monopoly on web apps. Web apps can be accessed via multiple devices like desktops, smartphones, netbooks and tablets. Most of the high profile OS like Windows 7, Mac OS X and Linux run web apps. Thus the need for another supporting OS is questionable.
Need for a another device
Google has to also justify the need for third device. Most users have a smartphone, tablet and a desktop or laptop. All three devices allow users to be connected to the web. Thus Google has tough act cut out as it has to convince users to accept Chromebook as the next device.
Cloud computing still at a nascent stage
Google's business model is still web search-based and its growth is directly proportional to the volume of web usage. Thus any approach that keeps users from accessing the web affects Google's proposition. Current models of specific apps designed for specific OS keeps users tied to the OS and device, fenced from the web like Apple iPhone. Google Chrome is an attempt to break these silos by enticing users to move to the cloud. As users move much of their data to the cloud through Chrome OS, users will be able to access data from any device, thus reducing dependence on a specific device or OS.
However currently most of the users store their data like music, pictures and documents on hard drives thus Google Chrome will have to offer a suitable filing system to replace this model. Another impediment is the security aspect that would hinder users from migrating their personal data to the cloud.
Thus Google has to address these issues for its Chromebook to take off. Until then Google can continue to do what it does best, innovate and wait for a business model to work around the invention.
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