notes: what should be the real plan for the chrome os?

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The world has been talking about the Google Chrome OS. We have people saying ‘next big huge thing‘, and obviously, ‘next big huge steaming pile of crap‘.

Me, personally? I haven’t, and still don’t like the idea of Google having a browser on the market – it reeks too much of a company trying to ensure that they take over every part of the Internet (their proposing SPDY, which will best work in Chrome does not help matters). There have been a series of posts recently dealing with different facets of this particular takeover: the oncoming war, google’s war-winning strategy (+counter-point). The Chrome OS spells the onset of Google really taking the war to the big guys – M$, Apple, – and trying to ensure they have control at the level of OS.

Can it really succeed? Dicey. Google has shown that even a relatively small move like releasing their own GPS (GPS software is just one step away from hardware, given phones today) really stuck it to the competition, as innumerable charts of stock prices have shown. On the flip side, that is a very specific market. Besides how much can an OS that is specific to one particular hardware set, has no storage except on the cloud, and no real UI really do? I do believe in cloud computing in a big way. As a backup. I doubt users really trust the cloud today. Even the generation that is growing up with Gmail and Google Docs being a reality from Day One (as opposed to us/me, the generation that saw the Internet take off :P), still does not live online. There is an offline component because the world is not online 24×7. Though the proliferation of smart-phones is changing that drastically, the world cannot do everything online just yet. I don’t think that can happen for a long long time to come. We still need our computers/laptops/notebooks – the thin client is a loooong way away –  and in that sense, Google’s OS is doomed to failure in today’s world, even though it is visionary in heralding a pure cloud-based era.

What can the Chrome OS really achieve then? As Scoble pointed out, there is the “dumb device” market that need not do much more than access recipes (even if his estimate of $1000 is a bit off as a good price). Which can also be occupied by E-Readers like the Kindle, Nook and what have you. The Nook runs Android, meaning Chrome OS will then fight a losing battle against another Google product (anyone else smell monopoly?). Android is far far more extensible than Chrome can ever be, so that battle is lost before it begins.

There is one other market that struck me today as being perfect for the Chrome OS. The flash-based quickstart (or the pre-boot) OS. We have such things existing today in every single laptop, where at the press of a button you have a media center/web browser accessible within 7-10 seconds. As opposed to resume/start-up times of >30 seconds fore Windows 7 and Mac OS X [cat’s name]. Its a tiny tiny margin that people don’t really care about – and so we don’t bother ever pressing that button. 2 reasons. OS media centers along with OS functionality is something people don’t mind waiting for – rather than have quick access to something crippled. Plus whatever browser/media player they offer is way way below par of anything usable. (Seriously. Have you tried any of them?).

What are the Chrome OS specs? Start-up time of 7-10 seconds. Browser available with Internet connectivity at the end of that. Easy access to Gmail, Docs, Lala, Hulu – essentially all the web apps. Basic media player functionality probably there in some manner (web-based or actual app unknown). No storage. Every single one of which fulfills all the requirements of a pre-boot OS. If we really are to hit that quickstart button on a laptop, most of us want to do one of 2 things properly: (1) quick access to personal e-mail, (2) media playback. Yes, in that order. Work cannot be something I do in a pre-boot. Chrome is a pretty decent browser, steadily gaining in features and speed (while ballooning in memory – just like Fx used to be). Infinitely better than the trash in pre-boots. And there are enough open-source media players out there to integrate into Chrome OS too. It all comes together perfectly.

Give up on the damn specific notebooks specifically pre-configured for Chrome OS and nothing else, Google. You have tie-ups with Dell, HP, Acer and so on to pre-install Chrome, Google Desktop etcetera. Tie-up for the pre-boot as well. Will users press that button? You have the hype already, work on that. There are definitely some curiosity presses of the quickstart button that will happen. It is near impossible to make an actual OS start up in the time-frame you are pushing for. Too many things to load up. There lies the killer move of this strategy: do NOT make Chrome able to do every single tiny thing. Read USB, Internet access, media. Thassit. That’s the basic stuff that you want people to use you for. Nothing more. You’re never going to be able to replace M$ or Apple. Ever. Plus you’re fighting with them on every other front anyway. But you can undercut them perfectly. And it’s a market they are not going to touch for a long time to come. Think of it this way: even if people use Chrome OS once or twice a week, that’s still a level of access that you don’t have today.

But is that enough?

Update: As Raghu pointed out below, there is a chance that the Chrome OS will merge with Android, in which case above strategy might still help them get a foothold in a market that they have no standing in. Additionally, a very in-depth look at the Chrome OS by Thurrott, a guy who is a big proponent of the cloud, and is actually already using it via Amazon.

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5 thoughts on “notes: what should be the real plan for the chrome os?

  1. raghu

    Some points which came in after the post. One: Google plans to merge the two flavors of its oses. No timeline indicated of course.
    Secondly: cloud is here to stay in a big way. There will be incentives, amazon did not provide many because they were going after businesses who needed capabilities to pull up as many cpus as possible. Most of us do not care about storage anymore, but a lot of people do care about ‘accessible’ storage. The cloud will be significant, sooner than later. You said it – we saw the internet take off like crazy in what 10 years? With crappy hardware?

    And remember, thirdly, most of the world would take this as their primary computing device – I don’t mean chromeos, but netbooks come to mind – its way too cheap, comes with either fancy oses or windows 7, connects to the internet, potentially offers storage online (or some tie up with some cloud app to store images – lets face it, its all about photos eventually). Its a second, or a third or a toilet access point only for a fraction of the potential population. Thats the business plan isn’t it – target the potential, not the tech bloggers.

    • SEV

      Duly updated post with possible change in direction for Chrome OS. Your point is valid that the cloud is here to stay, its just that the potential market doesn’t know they want it yet 🙂 See prev comment to yours for a classic example of this 😛

      • raghu

        That is cruel!

        I think the ‘potential market’ loses out, because the cloud is ,still, presented as a storage option. Even Ubuntu does that. Until someone comes to appreciate the capabilities of the cloud to run distributed and always-available applications/services potentially capable of servicing millions of customers no one will be interested. Ditto, users – who wants a storage option god knows where, if a WD external HD is less than 100 bucks.

        • SEV

          Yes, it is cruel. I apologize to Rahul, but am also thankful – he has afforded me a classic example of the world today when it comes to cloud computing.
          ‘Today’ is a key word in that sentence. As far as “is there any other way cloud can take off?” goes, unfortunately it has to begin with storage. Eventually you will have so much online, constant syncing online/offline will become pointless and we will trust more in online applications in running services. That world is slowly peeking out all around us: already I use Mint for my money management, my lab uses Google Docs for collaborative project planning/documentation, Google Bookmarks and so on.
          Ironically, the dropping in price for storage is responsible for the cloud as well as slowing its adoption. I get a WD 1TB for $100 (which is one reason cloud storage is taking off). It also means that Google’s 20 GB for $5 (or $256 for 1TB) is not cost-effective. This argument will become moot as web-apps develop though – I currently prefer Gmail Web to Thunderbird. And web-apps will come even more into the limelight via Chrome OS (for e.g. the use of Excel 2010 Web in the Chrome OS presentation). Making Chrome more accessible via every single laptop pre-boots and not just “Chrome laptops” may ensure this happens faster, methinks. Complement today’s paradigm, not supplement it prematurely. The whiplash can prove deadly to a nascent idea.

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