iPad vs. Chrome OS, Round two!
Welcome to the second round of this article. Last time we took a detailed look at the pros, cons and bottom lines of Apple’s new iPad. To recap, iPad and all of these new emerging tablets are essentially couch computers, filling the very small void of computer activity in your life where laptops/netbooks are too awkward and smartphones/MID’s (Mobile Internet Devices, think smartphone without the phone, like an iPod Touch as opposed to an iPhone) are too small to comfortably watch movies and surf the web when your relaxing and not on the move. Also, because Google’s Chrome OS relies heavily on cloud computing, I will also use this time to discuss some of the potential and alleged drawbacks of cloud computing as Chrome’s success depends largely on weather or not cloud computing is ready to take on the everyday tasks of the average computer user.
A Google Book is basically a netbook or smartbook (a netbook with smartphone hardware rather than desktop hardware) that utilizes a highly optimized operating system (I will call it an OS from now on) that specializes in doing one thing and doing it well, surfing the web. Google woke up one morning and took a look at consumer computing trends for the last few years and realized that people where spending more and more time on the web for more and more things. Google also saw that, while popular, netbooks weren’t as fun or as simple to use as they should be. So Google said to themselves, well if all people want to do is surf the web then why are we dealing with a huge, complicated OS’s that frustrate people and make them spend more time and money than they should? What if using your computer was more like using your TV? You know you just turn it on and there’s your entertainment, no boot process, no viruses or nagging updates, or having to configure dozens of systems only to screw it up to the point where you need to pay some one to fix it. What if using your computer and getting on the web to check your email, update your twitter or see that goofy video of your friend on FaceBook, was as simple as turning it on. And thus Chrome OS was conceived.
That being said, nothing new in the computer world ever releases and becomes successful without first passing through the fires of geek criticism. Like the iPad, many a geek questions weather or not Chrome OS will be successful. Google doesn’t have much experience making operating systems and this is a radical approach to the traditional computing platform. Again like the iPad I will dissect some of the complaints and see what potential Chrome OS has. Also an important note here: Computer Geeks only make up about 10% of the computing market, so in the consumerism world that we live in, geeks don’t decide where computing goes, normal computer users do. The iPad may become the next netbook simply because it’s cool, no matter what we think is wrong with it.
It’s just a browser: While not completely accurate, that is the point of the OS and takes a similar approach that the iPad did, namely use an interface most people are familiar with. One of the biggest problems people have with switching from Windows to Ubuntu (one of many Linux based, free OS’s) is that the interface is too different than what people are used to on Windows. Linux geeks like to super engineer interfaces to be extremely efficient allowing you to do almost every thing in a fraction of the time that it would take you to do on a PC or Mac. This is good for us, we can adapt very quickly to new UI’s (user interface), but not so much for the normal computer user. Geeks understand computing, it’s our passion, thus we have a much different approach to computers than most people that allows us to adapt very quickly and easily. Most people however see computers as a tool for getting stuff done, hence they don’t want to spend as much time as we do to understand it, they tend to just memorize how to do something. This is why both Windows and Mac’s UI’s layout hasn’t changed much in over a decade. So Google is smart by making Chrome OS just a web browser because, like Windows and Mac, web browsers layout hasn’t changed much in a long time Even different brands of web browsers like Internet Explorer and Firefox have a similar interface. That couple with the fact that by a large margin web browsers are the most used application, if you’ve ever used a computer in the last decade then you know how to use a web browser, thus you already know how to use Chrome OS’s basic features and it’s not even in beta yet.
I can’t use traditional apps: While this may be true, I believe its a moot point because, keeping in mind that Chrome OS is aimed at the average joe computer user, most users don’t use a lot of apps unless they have to, which is usually at work. In their personal lives people use a web browser and some form of media player and perhaps a file browser for getting images off their camera or moving a file to a flash drive, and Chrome OS has all of these built in. Granted Chrome’s media player and file browser won’t be nowhere near as powerful as a normal desktop app, but again remember, Chrome’s target audience rarely needs these advanced features and even Google says this is not designed to be a primary device you might still want to have a traditional desktop/laptop around if and when you need the advanced features. Also by not allowing apps to be installed at all, this provides a huge barrier to viruses since they are just little programs. Obviously this won’t stop virus writers completely, but it should make it living hell for them to do what they do which is always a good thing. Also by using only web apps instead of normal apps, Google has essentially shifted all administrative task involved with normal computer use from the client to the cloud. This is good for a consumer if you stop and think about it, when a consumer tries to install a new app or driver on his PC and ends up screwing his computer up it’s his fault and he needs to pay to get it fixed. However with a web app, if the app screws up or goes out then it’s the fault of the company that provides the service and is responsible to not only fix the problem as quickly as possible but also needs to potentially compensate the consumer o
if the downed app causes problems with the rest of his life, i.e. can’t work on an important document because Google Docs went down for three days and as a result the worker is in trouble for not completing the work on time.
It can’t do anything off-line: This complaint actually has two sub complaints in it, first: If you are not connected to the Internet, i.e. out of range of wi-fi or 3G, then it’s useless, and second: if it can’t do anything off-line then it’s a failure from word go because the Internet isn’t 100% reliable. Well I have a couple of things to say as well, first: Yes it can do stuff off-line, Google has repeatedly said and demonstrated that it could and already does quite well off-line and it’s not even in alpha yet, second: Chrome OS being a bad idea because the Internet isn’t 100% reliable is a moot point because nothing in life is completely reliable. The power grid in America is around 80 years old and we still have outages almost every year (depending on where you live), we get snow storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. that shut down the roads and transport systems keeping us from getting to work. That’s just how life works, if a network goes out we have to deal with it, yes it sucks but we don’t have much control over that.
These are the major concerns concerns that the tech community have brought up in regards to Chrome OS, but in the end Chrome OS will do well if Google and make good on their intentions of turning the complicated world of computing in to some thing as simple as turning on a tv.
Tune in next time when I’ll talk a little more about cloud computing issues and how their being addressed.