Chrome OS

I get it… Many people I know are scratching their heads trying to figure out what the point of this Chrome OS thing that Google is doing.  I don’t have that problem, I understand the concept.  I just think it is an entirely pointless idea.

Netbooks are an interesting niche market.  By all accounts they are set to take over the world.  Yet last week in LA at PDC09, I was struck by the fact that there were so few netbooks in attendance.  Now, I know that’s a “Professional Developer’s Conference” and most devs have better machines than that, but a netbook, in theory is perfect for an event like PDC.  You rock up, pull out your netbook, hook into the free wifi, take some session notes on the device, check your email over the internet and basically get all the “goodness” of the small form factor with no loss of capability.  That’s the theory.  The reality was that there were TONNES more Macbooks running OS X at PDC than there were netbooks – BOATLOADS MORE!

Then during PDC, Microsoft trots out a new multi-touch tablet with (king of the netbooks) Acer and gives everyone in attendance (except government employees and Microsoft staff) a freebie.  This device is a bit bigger than a netbook, but a fair bit smaller than a mid-size notebook, it has 3G, wifi and every other connectivity imaginable, plenty of RAM and a good sized HDD.  I can flip it over and write on it to take notes.  The next day, PLENTY of people were using them for just that.  Oh and did I mention, it had Office 2010 installed on it, so I had a full productivity suite.

I think the netbook market will continue to flourish and good luck to Google in tackling that space.  Personally, I would have rather seen Google throw their weight behind someone like Ubuntu and have a Linux variant go after the netbook market.  Alas, Google’s plans for global domination (without being evil) necessitate them enter the OS market.  Good luck with that – fighting Microsoft on their home turf is brave or stupid, depending on how you look at it.  I just don’t think the average person, and let’s face it, that’s who’s buying these things, not the hardcore geeks, can’t live in the cloud yet, totally connected to the internet.

The other thing that worries me is the closed nature of this thing.  One of the criticisms Microsoft has always faced is the proprietary nature of their products.  However, they’ve always openly embraced the developer community.  Google seem to be placing alot of restrictions on this thing.  Can I run Firefox on Chrome OS?  I doubt it.  What about Opera?  Are Opera and the EU going to go after Google? 

The final thing I’d like to know more about is, how are Google going to monetise this.  Let’s face the facts, Google are an advertising space wholesaler which drives traffic through search results.  Are they going to do anything special with this technology to make their ads more ubiquitous?  Am I going to have to see Google Ads on my “desktop”?  If not, and they are giving the OS away, then at some point doesn’t someone owe the Google shareholders an explanation as to why they continue to waste money on “competitor” products to Microsoft and others without a monetisation strategy beyond “driving more traffic to”? 

The whole thing just seems like vanity, ego and software engineering bravado.  How about rather than spending all of this time and effort on something so fruitless as Chrome OS, why not do some more R&D on the image search as Chris Dixon (@cdixon) pointed out on Twitter today.


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