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The Concept, The Platform

Gordon Kelly


A Guide to Chrome OS

Discussing any new platform can be daunting, especially one which is so radically different. The beauty of Chrome OS, however, is it is so simple. The problem with Chrome OS… is it is so simple.

The Concept

What has gained Chrome OS an equal number of supporters and cynics is its central concept: browser based Cloud Computing. In short this means Chrome OS is little more than an operating system which loads the Chrome web browser.

The theory behind this is we spend the majority of our time in our web browsers so why not strip away everything else. There are three main upsides to this: 1. Anyone can use it, 2. It is super fast, and 3. All your data is stored online meaning it is safe should anything happen to your laptop (see below).

A fourth benefit is that it should also run on relatively modest hardware: you won't need much storage and processing is done by the servers of the websites you use meaning low power components, long battery life and cheap devices. For the potential of this approach just take a look at OnLive.

The flip side is knockers will say it is all potential and very little substance. You'll need a continuous Internet connection to make the most out of Chrome OS and while HTML5 means some functionality will be available offline (access to email, Google Docs, etc) it is incredibly restrictive in a crisis. Furthermore It can be argued that Android already provides a neater mobile solution and there is little need for Google to muddy the waters with Chrome OS in the first place.

The Platform

So that's the theory, the reality came on Tuesday. After a number of delays and sneak previews Google formally unveiled Chrome OS to the public.

You'll find the full presentation starts in the video above, but the main things we learnt about the platform are that it doesn't compromise on its browser based vision, but it is making web-based apps a fundamental part of it. Much like Apple's App Store or Android Marketplace, these will be based in a central location: the Chrome web store and both free and premium apps can be installed at the click of button.

More than 500 apps are already in place from the likes of Amazon's 'Window Shop' and The New York Times to HTML5-enhanced games such as Poppit from EA's recent purchase Pogo. A vital role of apps is they work offline so even without Internet access you can still get on with much of your work the same way you would on a Windows or Mac machine. Interestingly application stores appear to be where all computer platforms are headed with Apple revealing in October they will be central to Mac OS X Lion and leaks suggesting they are key to Windows 8 as well.

As for the Chrome OS browser itself, we learnt only minor elements: Google Instant is coming to the Omnibox meaning you won't need to visit Google.com to get the arguable benefits of dynamic results, while there will be a super quick integrated PDF reader, compatibility with Citrix for businesses and improved security through integrated encryption and extended 'sandboxing' (when something crashes/is compromised it is locked off to stop it affecting the rest of Chrome).

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