February 17, 2019

All About Google's ChromeOS, by the Pundit Savant

The Three-Way Race and the Spoiler

  • July 16, 2009
  • By Emery Fletcher
I have decided to become one of the vast multitude who have been offering opinions on the great Talking Point of these days, Google�s Chrome OS. I feel eminently qualified to do so, because I know just as little about it as everyone else.

Not long ago I did a short article commenting on the apparently endless race between the Windows, Apple, and Linux operating systems for the hearts and minds of the public, and how each had a very

different strategy for the contest. In it I cited the seminal essay by Neal Stephenson In The Beginning Was The Command Line, adding that despite the fact it was written ten years ago, the strategies of all the runners have remained the same, and that they are all in the same relative positions with regard to market share today that they were in 1999.

Not Really Theirs, Not Really an OS

Less than a month after that article, Google announced the intention to produce their own version of an operating system, Chrome OS. Well, they admitted, it�s not really their own (the operative kernel is actually Linux), and it�s not really an OS (just a way to climb on board the Internet), but it will have a brand-new GUI, which is all the average user sees anyway. The way they described it, the GUI will do little more than lead you to the web and then get out of the way.

In short, it seems to me this approach is not much like what the expression �operating system� was devised to mean, namely an organizing technology to couple hardware to software. This is more like a way to couple the web nearly seamlessly to a piece of user hardware, so that everything from porn to Powerpoint can be accessible without occupying the slightest additional physical volume in the user�s desk/pocket/purse. It is also a clever way for Google to step right up to the user face to face, without the intermediary of any other corporate entity than generic hardware.

And Impurify Our Precious Bodily Fluids

The opinions on this approach as expressed in the IT press have ranged from enthusiasm (�Just what we need!�) to horror (�Google will steal your information!�) to agnosticism (�Nothing but vaporware!�), and predictions of its effect have ranged from �It�ll kill Microsoft!� to �It�ll kill Linux!� to �It�ll kill itself in no time!� What is most interesting is that the full range of those opinions is coming from loyalists of each of the Big 3 systems, the most extreme views � both pro and con � from the True Believers.

That�s interesting, but not surprising. Fundamentally, what Google has done is declare that the ancient and honorable Three-Way Race is just too Twentieth Century to bother with, that nobody really needs all that real-world storage space and the ugly tower under the desk, that as long as you have a screen and a route to the web, life will be great. With Chrome OS, you�ll be able to get all you want from the digital universe unencumbered by anything bulkier than a Blackberry or an iPhone. (That will be especially useful while you live in your car because you�ve been laid off by your IT employer.)

Hey, We've Been Here Already!

On the surface, Google�s strategy looks really new, but it is in fact very old. Look at it this way: it is really a return to the very first days of computing when terminals were hardware objects that gave users access to the mainframe, where all the programs needed to manipulate the user�s data were stored. Google�s approach simply declares that the Cloud is the new mainframe, but this time you have to buy your own terminal.

Will it fly, and is the Three-Way Race null and void? My definitive answer is we�ll learn soon enough!

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