Chrome OS launches - but consumers have to wait
Google’s new operating system Chrome OS has many problems to iron out before it rivals Windows 7
Google has launched its new Chrome OS operating system, throwing down the gauntlet to the market leader, Microsoft, which recently launched its own Windows 7 operating system.
However, if Google really intends to take a bite of Microsoft’s 90 per cent share of the operating system market, it is playing a long game: the average consumer won’t be able to use it until late 2010. Yesterday’s launch was really aimed at making the code behind Chrome OS available to programmers (OS stands for ‘open source’).
That is not the only aspect that makes Chrome OS an entirely different prospect to Windows 7. It is also free. But perhaps the most fundamental distinction between the two is that Chrome OS will be a web-based operating system.
That means users will access their programs, such as word processing software, in an internet browser. That internet browser is, of course, the similarly named Google Chrome – at least until the third party programmers get to work on the code and make it compatible with other browsers, such as Internet Explorer and Firefox, the market leaders.
In the short term, the only applications that will work with Chrome OS are Google applications – that means a Google word processor, spreadsheet, Picasa photo editor and so on.
Sundar Pichai, vice-president of product management at Google, explained that each program will operate on a different tab in the browser.
"There are no conventional desktop applications, he said. "That means you don't have to install or update software. It's just a browser; a browser with a few modifications."
The end result is that computers running Chrome OS will be very fast – eventually, it is hoped, as fast as switching on a television.
But the dizzying speed means some home computing fundamentals have been thrown out, such as keeping your own data on your own hard drive. Worryingly for the more conspiracy-minded, all the user’s data will be stored on Google’s servers.
Although that means you cannot access data on your own computer, it does mean that losing your laptop will no longer mean losing all your files (government departments take note). When you buy a new laptop, it simply synchronises with the Google server and restores all your data.
There are doubtless many problems to iron out. If a computer running Windows loses its internet connection, you can still boot up Word and write, or go into Photoshop and tinker with your photographs, which are all kept on your hard drive. If that computer is running Google OS, it is essentially a brick – since all your programs and files are on a Google server in the United States.
As for the blossoming rivalry with Microsoft, Google co-founder Sergey Brin was diplomatic at yesterday's launch: "Call us dumb businessmen," he said. "But we really focus on user needs rather than think about strategies relative to other companies and what not."
But whatever Brin says, data is a valuable commodity for a company that makes so much money from internet advertising – and Chrome OS will harvest an awful lot of consumers' data. ·
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