Thoughts on Chrome OS

At the end of 2010 Google will release a number of netbooks that will run its new operating system: Chrome OS. Chrome OS is, as can be guessed from its name, an operating system built on top of, or rather, underneath Google Chrome. Yes, a web browser. And that’s essentially what the operating does, boot up a web browser as soon as possible. Usually within 10 seconds.

Google’s vision is that most stuff people do on netbooks involve the internet and happen from the web browser anyway, so why not build the whole operating system around the browser. It fits perfectly with Google’s vision of running all your applications through the browser. Other than the core browser parts, all applications that run on Chrome OS are web applications. For mail you can use Gmail or hotmail, for document editing Google Docs, and so on. Google will not allow you to install native apps, because, it argues, there is really no need to.

Google has open sourced the project. So developers can play with it. Some sites already offer it for download as virtual machine images.

But I’m not convinced that it will be a huge success, even though I do buy into the everything in the browser vision. It’s for the same reason that Microsoft was never able to sell a “Word Lite”, even though people don’t use 95% of its features: when given the choice between a computer that is restricted to boot a browser and one which can do whatever you want, people will choose the latter. Sure, they are likely to spend most of their time in the browser, but they like the feeling of being able to non-browser things as well, just like they like having the mail merge feature in Word, even though they are not likely to ever use it.