Tech, Gadgets, Photography, Social Media and Poor Spelling
When it comes to the subject of computing, much is open to debate, opinions are strong and discussions can be heated, this is especially so when it comes to a persons chosen Operating System. Nothing defines you in the world of IT more than your choice of OS. Windows, OSX, Linux, BSD, Solaris as we work down that list the numbers of people using each of these OS’s on a traditional PC drindle like a bell curve. So with that in mind, and with the knowledge that the time of the Desktop is nearing an end why are Google developing, actively developing ChromeOS?
On your Desktop or Laptop its a pretty good assumption you are running Windows, the version is irrelevant. This is an Operating system which acts as an interface between you and the underpinnings of the computer you are working on. Occasionally you may be prompted for a driver should you plug in some new hardware. The operating system at a very high level tells the application where to print, save its files and much more. Historically things like Web Browsers have been seen as Applications which run on Operating Systems. You start Windows, OSX, Linux and then launch your web browser.
Operating systems can be complex beasts with many settings for users to navigate which is easy if you like me are an IT nerd however not so easy should you be not so IT Savvy (and if i’m brutally honest, some of the most IT knowledgable people i know are pretty useless when it comes to navigating the OS layer)
Google are a company who have over time evolved into masters of the internet, first came the very fast web search engine, then came applications which ran inside the browser such as Gmail and Office type apps. Eventually something came out of a meeting somewhere where Google wanted a share of the browser market and created Google Chrome which has become in many circles the replacement form the default browser (IE, Safari, Firefox) as its a speedy little number. Owning the browser enabled Google to really push forward with the HTML 5 experience which in turn allowed third parties to create some beautiful Web Applications. In some cases becoming better than the desktop alternatives Evernote is a great example of this.
This has obviously lead to someone at Google asking the question, if we can run these great applications in our web browser now, then we don’t really need a desktop. So why not create an operating system which comprises of just the Google Chrome web browser and enough settings to get you online and save files.. and Google ChromeOS was born…
The first iterations of ChromeOS were from a users perspective quite literally just a Google Chrome browser window, nothing else and I guess this must have confused a few people as the current version is a little more like a traditional desktop OS in so much as it has a taskbar, you can launch web apps from this bar and connect to your Wifi and change settings. However Unlike Explorer in Windows or Finder on OSX everything you do in ChromeOS is done in a Web Browser
There is something to be said for the simplicity of the design and interface having taught people how to use Windows you start to realise the complexity of the interface . ChromeOS is also very VERY light weight and as such requires very basic hardware and thus cheap hardware to get up and working. Even on the slowest netbook ChromeOS is zippy as it doesn’t have the overhead that its bigger cousins do under the hood. Also unlike Windows, OSX and Linux breaking into the underlying Operating system isn’t an immediate option for users.
From a usability point of view there is very little to learn on the interface if you can use a web browser and run Web Apps such as Outlook, Evernote, PicNic etc then you can use the interface.
Being a web based OS and being a Google product there is another trick up the sleeve of ChromeOS which is quite a useful trick as each time you make a change to the OS. Add a new Web App, Plugin of change the layout of the Chrome Bar at the foot of the screen this is saved under your google account up there in the cloud. Should you blat the chrome book, login to another one or just need to your whole environment is recreated wherever you login to ChromeOS. Same plugins, history, everything. This is the power of the cloud. Post reinstall it all works just how you left it.
The question is where does ChromeOS fit in? With Windows being the dominant desktop OS and MAc OSX being a solid second it’s hard to see where this OS fits into the Desktop OS eco system, more so when you take into account the dominance mobile OS’s such as IOS and Android are having on the market. Tablet PC sales are cutting into Desktop sales in a huge way. So is Google creating a solution for a problem which may not exist in a few years?
The simple answer is with tablets and apps taking on a larger market share, smartphone and mobile becoming the primary computing device there may be a need for some to have a computing device with Internet Access and a keyboard.
Obviously this isn’t an OS for the hardcore computing community, it might not even take a top 3 OS spot however this is not the point here. This is a Free (open source) Operating system, which has a defined userbase, a large userbase of people who just live in their web browser like my Wife and Granddad These people don’t need an expensive MAcbook or whizzy Windows 8 laptop. they are looking for something easy to use, quick to power up and gives them access to Facebook, eMail and online shopping and this is the market share Google could be looking at.
Computing has become consumer it is no longer the realm of spotty oiks in club rooms, and how we access those money making services on the web is the battleground. Simple like the TV or Microwave is key here.. ChromeOS fits this bill and has a userbase.
For Google this has been a journey from search engine to HTML5 Web Apps, from Web Apps to Browser then to ChromeOS. , the next logical step was to, just like Apple, to produce the hardware. However in this case Google are not producing the hardware directly they have convinced hardware manufacturers to do this in the first instance this was Samsung who are on a bit of a roll with Android and then Acer with the C7.
What these manufacturers are putting together is the Chromebook a notebook specified out to run ChromeOS with Function keys for the Browser and branding of Chrome and Google all over the device. The Specs of the Chromebooks are good enough to provide a nippy, responsive Operating experience.
Having run the ChromeOS from the installer on a Dell Mini 9 I know how lightweight the OS is, however the specifications laid down by Google for the Chromebooks show this OS off in a good fashion as youd imagine, however its things like the keyboard layout being more like a Macbook than a PC Laptop and the Function keys being designed for use with the browser make the whole experience just that little bit nicer than on a standard laptop install.
The Minimum spec seems to be 12Gb of HDD Space a few Gb or Ram, a Wifi chip and up until a recent Samsung device an Intel Atom chip. Current Specs of the latest Chromebooks can be found here.
The Acer C7 is a redesign of a Windows 7 netbook, providing the user with a lightweight 2Gb (upgradable to 16Gb using 2 x 8Gb DDR3 Memory modules) a 340Gb Hard disk which is huge overkill seeing as the OS takes so little install space and at the moment you get 2years free 100Gb on Google Drive. There is however never too much disk space.
As a travelling machine this is lightweight device which gives you 4hrs of working time off a full charge and charges up back to full in about 45minutes.
There are 3 USB 2 ports on the device and an HDMI port which seems to video only however that could just be me.
Its upgradeable to 16Gb or Ram which is supported under the ChromeOS environment which is 32bit but uses like most 32bit Linux distros a PAE version of the kernel which allows each process to address up to 4gb or ram. As each tab in Chrome launches as a separate process this can make use of the additional RAM. The Hard disk is a standard 2.5″ device and can be swapped out to an SSD as well should you want to.
As it is the 2Gb ram and 320Gb HDD spec boots from cold to OS in about 5 seconds which isn’t bad going.
The Acer C7 has another trick up its sleeve just like the OS it runs it because it’s based off a 64bit Intel Atom chip (the device actually is a respin of a Windows 7 Laptop) has allowed some hardworking Ubuntu guys to get a version of Ubuntu 12.04 onto the device. It can’t run Ubuntu out of the box because of the BIOS installed on the device however with a little foreplay and tweaking its possible to get this device to dual boot ChromeOS and Ubuntu and it runs Ubuntu really well.
This is a question many are asking Google have two OS’s in their pipelines will ChromeOS and Android converge? Is there space for two OS’s at Google? these are questions for other blog posts.
ChromeOS is looking to add Touch to its stack and could end up on tablets…
So what we have here is an OS which works out of the box, is cloud based and simple to use running on low cost hardware. this is an OS which can turn the laptop to a second device or a low cost primary device. It’s not an OS for every occasion and isn’t for everyone it does however fit the bill for many consumers.