This time next year, disk drives will be a thing of the past; instead, computer users will be pulling in emails, documents, music and photos from the web, and computers will need just a few gigabytes of storage.
At least, that’s Google’s vision. This week the search giant gave the world a first look at its new computer operating system, Chrome OS, which it believes could revolutionise computing.
Based on Google’s web browser, also named Chrome, the operating system effectively acts as a gateway to the web. Rather than storing files and documents on the computer’s hard drive, Chrome OS instead relies on data stored on remote servers, pulling these files, on demand, to any internet-connected computer. Users access their emails, documents or social networking sites by clicking on application tabs in the browser-like interface and use panels at the bottom of the desktop to send an instant message or view a video.
“We want Chrome to be blazingly fast,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s vice president of product management. “We want it to be like a TV – turn it on and it’s booted up.”
In a world where 90pc of computers run Microsoft’s Windows operating system, Chrome represents a step-change. Chrome will run only on computers that use flash memory solid state drives instead of conventional hard drives. It’s a bold approach. Google is taking a leaf out of Apple’s book to design an end-to-end user experience where the hardware is built specifically to support the software.
Google says that the time is right to move away from traditional desktop computing. With more and more services now in “the cloud” – such as Flickr, the photo-sharing website, and many music-streaming and video services – and consumers snapping up cheap, ultra-portable “netbook” computers, the conditions are in place to launch a new platform that exploits these advances to provide a completely new way of using a computer.
“Over the past few years, people have been spending more and more of their time online doing more and more powerful things, and we wanted to build a fundamentally different computing experience built for the way we use the web today,” says Pichai. “With Google Chrome OS, we’ve made computing faster, easier and safer than ever before.”
But some experts say Google could find it difficult to persuade consumers. Users will not be able to install their own software or applications on Chrome OS devices – so that means no iTunes, no Skype and no Tweetdeck.
“There’s no doubt that Chrome OS looks fast, but it’s fairly limited in terms of its functionality,” says Annette Jump, an analyst with Gartner. “A lot of work needs to be done to convince consumers that this operating system will be useful to them.”
And that’s not the only stumbling block Chrome OS faces – its reliance on always-on web connectivity might be possible in large cities, with good mobile phone network coverage and plenty of Wi-Fi hotspots, but in rural areas, or on a flight, Chrome will be hobbled.
“I think Chrome is initially going to appeal to a small subset of the general consumer population,” says Ray Valdes, another analyst with Gartner. “The question is, can Google build on that and expand that over time?”
This week’s demonstration was designed to drum up interest in the platform. Google released the code to the operating system in the hope that developers would build new products, services and applications, in much the same way as they build apps for the iPhone, or Google’s mobile phone operating system, Android.
By offering more tools and apps for Chrome OS, Google will hope to win over consumers who may be unsure about what the platform offers. While Chrome OS has potential, it will need to add some compelling new features if it is going to top Christmas lists next year.
Content courtesy of The Telegraph