back to article Google Chrome OS - do we want another monoculture?

Yes, Google has open-sourced Chrome OS, its much-discussed browser-based operating system. But as usual, the open sourcing only says so much about its openness. After all, this isn't something you can load on any PC. And it's not much of an operating system. You can't load local applications - not even one. As part of its …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    And what does this give us that we don't have already?

    If you want familiarity, go Microsoft

    If you want status, go Apple

    If you want the best, go Linux -

    We already have more than enough choice.

  2. Billz

    Chrome vs Android

    Back in July, Google made the distinction that Chrome OS would also be for desktops & net-books - whereas Android was for handheld, phones and net-books.

    But today we hear its basically just for net-books - and only ones with SSD/Flash...!

    It seems even stranger to continue to have both OS offerings.

  3. Julia Smith

    XServer By Any Other Name

    MainFrame redux.

  4. criscros


    Please don't forget that Google's greatest asset is its brand. They understand the "free" business model, and know that as long as they can keep their users happy they can depend on their loyalty (a business model that is a stark contrast to Apple's and Microsoft's, if you think about it).

    I think the comparison to Apple is unfounded. Google will keep their webapps under control, of course, but don't care about the OS itself. The hardware support is limited, but the reasons for that should be clear: it's a Linux OS and can't install extra drivers.

    I'm not the greatest fan of "the cloud" but think only good things can come from more players entering the OS market. If the competition can chip away even 35% of the reigning monopoly things may start to improve -- think OS wars instead of just browser wars. The consumer can reap the benefits of these giants fighting it out: better prices, faster software, better quality...

  5. Igor Sfiligoi

    It actually makes sense, after some thought

    My first thought when I started reading was:

    "Why the heck would I want something like this??????????"

    And indeed, I probably never will.

    But then I though of my mom;

    All she needs is a way to browse the web, access her web mail (which happens to be gmail) and look at some photos.

    So ChromeOS provides all that she needs... without all the the "crapware" provided with the OS (and I already switched her to Linux).

    So for her is the ideal solution... it will likely be much safer than it is now, and probably faster, too.

    Of course, I need to see what hardware will support it and what will be the pricing, but the idea has indeed a lot of merit!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thin clients don't fly

    Even Larry Ellison got handed his ass on that one.

    So how about local-config stuff like printer drivers? My Grandma could use it, but she sure wants to print her pics & emails. And she doesn't want a tiny netbook.

    I don't see hardware manufacturers hurrying to write drivers for ChromeOS any more than they do for Linux. Are they going to specify printers and mice too? If they specify an Epson printer, I can sure as hell see HP & Lexmark suing.

    Anyone I can think of that knows what a netbook is and wants one, is too techie to want this. They'd want their own local apps.

  7. Bob 18
    Thumb Down

    Won't succeed in the market

    The very first netbooks ran regular old Linux --- an OS that for most end users functions equivalently to Chrome OS in that it lets you browse the web. This initial head start was soon eclipsed by WIndows XP.

    Why? Because if you're going to drop even $300 on a computer, you want it to be as capable as possible. The fact that Chrome OS doesn't allow installation of apps is NOT a selling point. Users who don't want to install apps on any computer can simply not install apps.

    Netbooks are NOT "small, low-power" computers. In reality, they're as beefy as the regular laptops we used just a few years ago. They're sufficient for all common tasks --- except maybe running JavaScript apps, which is an incredible hog compared to native apps. People are buying them because they're cheap, and they're quite powerful enough for day-to-day tasks, INCLUDING running local apps.

    "Network appliance" computers have been tried on the market time and time again. And they have always failed. Google is the wealthiest and most powerful company yet to try the concept; but I doubt that even they will succeed in selling it to the public.

  8. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge

    Local devices

    Chrome doesn't support local devices. Can't talk to your printer, etc. etc.

    But it's limited to netbooks.


    I wonder if I could plug that printer into a modern broadband router and have it provide printing services to the netbook in some form of universal standard.


    Crap. Now this thing might just be viable.

  9. Neoc


    First of all, the Chrome browser is the GUI, *not* the OS - regardless of what MS tries to tell you in its brainwash- er, marketing sessions.

    Second of all, after reading this article, I ended up with the distinct impression that Chrome OS was the bastard child of MS and Apple :- MS's browser+OS tie-in and Apple's "you can only buy/run our stuff" attitude.

    Time to hoard my XP licences and Ubuntu install CDs. I have a feeling I'll be needing them in the long run.

  10. Moshe 1

    Why everybody says that Chrome doesn't run Silverlight?

    I'm using Chrome to watch NetFlix, and yeah, it shows movies with silverlight applet!

  11. jim 45
    Thumb Up

    7 seconds

    They're already demoing a build that boots in 7 seconds. DO YOU HEAR ME PEOPLE? 7 SECONDS!

    I am s-o-o-o-o-o-o-o tired of waiting for XP to boot to boot - and by boot, I mean become usable - on my ASUS 900 netbook.


  12. GrantB

    Device drivers

    Interesting thing that kills pretty much any OS from competing with Windows is drivers.

    There has to be an assumption that a nice new netbook/tablet running ChromeOS will just work automagically with your camera/printer/iPod/3G card etc plugged into the USB ports.

    It is getting easier these days with a few more standards in place for things like cameras (pictbridge?), but printers at least could be interesting.

    A true online OS could do some funky steps though; you hit print on a webpage, the request gets sent to Google HQ along with the ID of the connected printer. They can then run the job through a Windows printer driver (this is Google - they could have 100,000 VM's representing 99% of the worlds most common printers), capture the data sent to the USB port on the VM, compress it and stream it back out to the printer device. End result is that you device has no printer driver but can talk to any printer that is attached that Google knows about... and Google advertisers get to pop up suggestions that if you are printing those photos, you might want to consider this online printing service that does 6x4 glossies for $..

    Oh and on the issue of:

    "ultimate irony is that after years of criticizing Microsoft for bundling its OS with its browser, Google has nearly made them one and the same"

    Well, no, Google quite fairly criticised MS for bundling a hideous, slow, non-standard based browser to try and kill the (Netscape) competition and slow the progress of webapps which threatened (and still do threaten) the Microsoft platform. I notice in the screenshot that they had Hotmail listed, so they don't mind competing on webservers.. but if they subsidise the purchase cost (like the cellphone model) then they will want a fair bit of control.

  13. Samir

    google chrome os is ubuntu based

    This news is hot and fresh… Hold on to you pants people. We just got an update that Chrome OS is based on UBUNTU Karmic Koala.

    You can see and even look at the Source code of the upcoming Google Chrome OS here.

    I am Calling it GooBuntu

  14. frymaster

    7 second boot

    7 second boot is easy if you have strict control over hardware (don't have to detect a bajillion different possible devices), run it off an SSD, and only want to run a browser instead of being a general-purpose OS

  15. Zack Mollusc

    Orwellian web apps.

    Hmm. Is this a different sort of Orwellian story?

    Mainframe bad, desktop PC good.

    Time passes....

    Desktop PC good, web apps better!

    I have yet to work out who plays Boxer,Snowball, Napoleon, Squealer etc.

  16. Keith Oldham

    So useless for travellers (or expensive)

    So no internet access = no computer. One major use for netbooks is as a small, light device for travelling. So can't listen to music or watch videos or write emails ...... without a connection.

    I'll stick with eebuntu on my 901 which is perfect for travelling.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    7 second boot

    Who gives a toss, if you can't do much once it's booted?

  18. M7S

    I'm out

    I'd hoped that Chrome would be an OS that is friendlier to non-techie users than Linux, and would go on my older PCs (not XP capable for example) so that I could use them eventually as iPlayer boxes connected to a TV or for simple domestic computing.

    I'm outside a UK city so decent broadband is something that we see in the distant future (or not) as we boil our turnips, so even if I had the hardware required, it would be no good for me.

    Guess I'll have to stick with MS then and endure the scorn of the rest of the IT crowd.

  19. mmiied

    not what I need

    I use my netbook on the train and car and on a boat where I have no net connections and where there is no space for my laptop or in situations where I need to carry it one handed round the building (config tests) in these situations I need local apps and 3rd party config apps

    I am not realy sure who this is amied at

    in responce to pepol

    I use my eee 901 for open office typing and playign old games so far I can run open transport tycoon total anilation and x-com apoiclpes with out any problem

    my eee 901 starts very quickley mainley cos it has a ssd and very big battry so it usuley stays in suspend mode and "starts2 in under 10 sec

  20. Dexter
    Thumb Down

    7 second boot

    Is very slow for a solid state based device.

    My old Atari ST used to boot in a couple of seconds, and that was 20+ years ago.

  21. Pheet

    Not for the likes of us...

    But there's a large percentage of the population that don't need a fully fledged PC (with it's attendant virii, hardware compatibility issues, DLL hell, etc). They just need a browser where they can access webmail, youtube, and facespace. A consumer device, rather than a tool.

    I think Google has at least identified a valid market for this. I also think that limiting the supported hardware (ala Apple) is actually a smart thing to do for new platform. Lack of, or flaky, device drivers being the bane of both WIndows and *nix systems.

    There is a definite shift to SaaS. How many people are using Basecamp for example?

    It's of little interest (without hacks) to us IT geeks.

  22. Anonymous Coward


    I don't trust an advertising company that uses what it knows about me to sell me things it thinks i want to run my computer.

    I'd rather pay for an AdWare free computing experience from a dedicated vendor or continue using a community centric UNIX project.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Speaks for itself...

    Well, that will make sure I don't waste my time with this product then!

  24. Jeremy Chappell


    I think talk of a new monoculture is somewhat premature. Google don't even WANT to create this. Imagine if you "kill the PC" - where do Google get the next generation from? Google's developers were "trained" on the PC, kill that and you raise the bar for programmers considerably. Sure, we could "program in the cloud" but after the "old guys" are gone, who looks after the cloud?

    No Google doesn't want to do this, it's not even in their interest. Chrome OS makes sense for a certain audience, maybe for most people some of the time, but not everyone all of the time. Google won't want this.

    So, why Chrome OS? Well it does give reliable, incorruptible, Internet (well Web) access - that's in Google's interest, especially if it shifts your focus further toward the cloud. Additionally, if you data is on Google's servers then mining that data to give you better ads is possible. Google want to give you "better ads".

    So is there a compromise here? Yes, you're handing more power to Google, and trusting them to "not be evil", can they live up to this? I don't know - could anyone? But Chrome OS is probably going to be very useful, not least with internally hosted Web applications - there's nothing in here that ties the system to Google. Looks like a "dumb terminal" for 2010 - and actually that's probably going to be pretty useful.

  25. Magnus Ramage


    I agree about travelling, out of reach of Net connections, being an issue with this idea. But isn't that the point of Google Gears (built into Chrome), to allow you to use online apps when you're offline? Not yet tried it myself so can't say how well it works.

  26. Matthew 17

    for 99% of computer users

    This is exactly what they want.

    They just want to connect to the web and dick around with their photos & music. They want it to be completely non-technical and idiot proof.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Why ?

    So it's basically just a dumb terminal. The question is, unless it's about 50 quid, why on earth bother when for not that much more of an outlay you can get something exponentially more functional, ie. a simple netbook ? I honestly can't see it appealing to many.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Call me Old Skool but......

    I use Google as anyone else does (or has to today), but other than the search engine my interests stop at Picasa and Gmail. Chrome (the browser) isn't all bad but the users seem to be adopting the arrogance of circa 1995 Linux users.

    I really don't know what use I'd have for Chrome the OS, my Netbook is just fine with Windows XP and when it's finally dead I'll use Linux. And I can load my own programs on it. And I can save my files on it. And if I don't have an Internet connection I can still use it for something.

    If the goal is to keep people only using it for web apps, really why bother? Just go back to the olden days and make a web portal with all your apps and junk there to use. That way you don't have to support an OS and anyone can use it.

    And while we're at it, can someone out there PLEASE make an alternative OS that isn't yet another Linux clone? I still remember the high hopes out there for Be, and even the Mac Classic OS was something different. Now we have an endless stream of Franken Distros that are someone's "improvements" on Linux. Just condense all the effort into 3 or 4 distros, not 400, otherwise it's just some cruel version of the Monty Python spam skit.

  29. Geoff Campbell

    Ah, it's started....

    I love the way I can come to El Reg and have a panel of experts explain to me why any idea or product is doomed to failure, without them ever having had their hands on it.

    How about we wait and see, people? For one thing, what about price? With lightweight reference hardware and a free OS, you could end up with netbooks costing £50-100. Still so sure they'll tank?


  30. TeeCee Gold badge

    This'll be interesting

    "And you certainly can't use a third party browser."

    The countdown to a fulminant diatribe from Hakan Lie starts now.

    If ChromeOS takes off, it'll also be interesting to find out whether the industry really is a level playing field or not and, if it is, just how much Google get fined by the EU and how many artificial internal divisions are forced on them by the yanks.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "start" button

    Did anyone else notice the irony of the chrome OS "start" button? Google have ended up morphing the colours on their logo into a windows start button. It's funny how these companies bitch about each other but in the end they just emulate each other. To me, the chrome os will flop - apple lost massive share to IBM PC compat's by restricting hardware and the same thing will happen to Google. Webapps may be all the rage at the moment but what about "the-next-big-thing" in 10-15 years we could have another paradigm bigger than the web that we just can't foresee today.

  32. Mage Silver badge


    It's just a Graphics Terminal

    Understands HTML instead of VT100 commands.

    Anyone that Promotes this or "buys into" this 1960s view of computing is a fool.

    It's not a Computer as we know it Jim. Like Android, the "Open Sauciness" will seduce some people, but like Android it's about Google Control, not Freedom.

    I don't want iPhone, Andriod or Chrome. EVER. Windows XP is more useful and open than those. Fedora, Unbuntu, Moblin, Maemo are the real Open Source Distros for Phones, Netbooks and PCs.

    Mine's the one With Symbian, WindowsCE/Mobile, Moblin, Maemo and Unbuntu Source in the pockets.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Comparisons with PC's

    what's all the harping on about not being able to install drivers and replacing the OS etc? I can't do that with my phone. I just want it to work and do my bidding very quickly. I want reasonable battery life measured in days (if not talking surfing) not hours.

    I think Google could be onto something with this, if they get the offline data storage model right. No HDs is fine with me if the SSD is big enough.

    I didn't read it anywhere, but I'm assuming there will be a SQLite engine included like I believe is in Gears.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    In answer to my own post

    A quick scan of the source tree reveals sqlite and interestingly httpd

  35. Anonymous Coward

    Wahoo...more cloud shite.... is a few words of warning to those who think the cloud is your saviour.


    Lycos Mail

    Launchcast plus

    BMG Music

    Microsoft Money Plus

    Google Video

    Google Notebook

    Google Dodgeball

    Google Jaiko

    and on and on...

    All these services "in the cloud" ie. on the internet, that get discontinued when they make no money, the users get bored, or the delevopers just simply can't be arsed.

    So you learn and invest a few years in a app, all your services are running great and then the

    "This service will be discontiuned in 6 months. Tough shit, your on your own.Good luck"

    People are still using XP, it's been around longer than many of the services listed, it's discontinued, but hey, if you want to carry on using, feel free. How many 10's of thousands of machines are still running NT4, 98, Win2000 hell, bet there are even some OS2/Warps out there.

    With the "cloud", when they decide your are going to upgrade, tough shit, you are going to upgrade and bad luck if it trashes anything you use it with.

    MY PC, MY hardware, MY Software. I decide when I stop using it.

    Still people will still buy these as it will be hyped to hell by the mainstream press.

  36. Anonymous Coward

    Unable to reach Google Mail

    Well I've been staring at the "Unable to reach Google Mail" message for the last two hours ... welcome to the Cloud.

    I didn't like X Windows thin clients in the 1980's - I don't like their re-invention as Chrome OS now.

    Chrome is a cosmetic plating which accelerates rusting when scratched ... seems appropriate.

  37. TeeCee Gold badge

    Re: 7 seconds.

    I reckon you can boot XP in 7 seconds if you turn off everything bar what's strictly necessary to run a browser and put it on a native PCIe attached SSD (like an OCZ "Z-drive") rather than a SATA disk.

    Presumably this is why ChromeOS doesn't do conventional HDDs. It's easy to win when you're comparing your pears to everyone else's apples.

  38. Anonymous Coward

    Needs and wants.

    "But we really focus on user needs"

    OK. So where's my flying spaceship-car and talking intelligent computer?

    I can have another thin-client with lots of apps I'll hardly ever use, you say?

    Hmm. Maybe you should go focus on those user needs* a bit more.

    * and, btw, we all know they're not 'needs', they're 'wants'. You can live without Google Chrome. You can't live without food. If you're not able to identify what's a need and what's a want and have the chutzpa to do that in public, in a really real press release then aren't you just another advertising executive trying to get us to buy into your dream of 'how the world should be' (where 'how the world should be' = a world where lots of cash flows towards you and allows you to buy all those things you 'need')?

    And doesn't that rather go against your statement about not thinking about "strategies relative to other companies and what not" seeing as those companies will also be competing to provide for those wants, oops sorry, 'needs' and could therefore prevent that cash from flowing towards you?

  39. SkippyBing Silver badge

    7 Seconds

    Boot time is only important if you don't have the mental capacity to do something else while your computer turns on...

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do we want another monoculture?

    We want another something, that's all. We're living with a monopoly at the moment and that's the only reason we keep having these farcical debates. With the cloud becoming more and more prevalent, the OS is no longer a differentiator. Hopefully this is the first step towards a competitive market which will drive prices down and foster some genuine innovation.

  41. Adam T


    Where's everyone's sense of adventure?

    I think it's pretty neat - and the only reason thin clients (for consumers) haven't gone anywhere is because nobody has put their money where their mouth is. Don't say someone has, because until my Victorian Dad asks me about it, it hasn't happened (he asked me about Chrome OS this morning, so it's seeping through).

    As for Linux, try saying the words "log in a root" to Victorian Dad and you get to see a facial expression of genuine F.U.D.

    Just because we - the tech savvy, with our pious attitudes towards technical culture - smirk at simple solutions, doesn't mean Victorian Dads (and perhaps 3rd World kids) all over the globe will be smirking too.

  42. SlabMan

    Bye bye usability

    Desktop OSes at least enforce some kind of consistency in application behaviour and interface. This is being posited as for neophyte users, yet their primary app will be that usability nightmare, GMail.

    There are web apps with usable interfaces. Just none from Google.

    All that money, and no taste.

  43. Trygve

    version 1.0

    Currently it looks pretty damn pared-down, but it may interest enough people to keep it viable and develop into something useful. Windows 1.0 and 2.0 were by all accounts pretty rubbish and look what they led to.

    I've never really played with any of this Chrome stuff but wouldn't Gears allow them to cobble together some limited offline functionality?

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    When it was first announced I was excited by the prospect of this fast new Linux distro. Now that I know it's literally only going to run a web browser (Google's web browser) tied to specific Google certified hardware... well that's just crap.

    I don't want that at all. If I did I could do it myself with my preferred browser. Even then I'd want a few choice apps to be installed as well.

    All Chrome OS offers is limitations. Who cares if their PC boots quickly if it can't do anything other than use crappy web applications? Google Docs? No thanks I'll write my documents in the privacy of local software. Which of course horrifies Google as that would stop them scanning everything I type in order to more efficiently spam the crap out of me.

  45. Dunstan Vavasour
    Thumb Up

    @Igor Sfiligoi

    Your thoughts mirror mine. My mum and dad have a PC running XP which they use primarily for email and browsing, some simple document writing, and playing simple games (puzzles). They buy a service from a local company who supplied the machine and broadband package, and some server side services (email, with outlook configured to their server).

    There is a huge body of people who don't want to have a computer, they want to have an internet appliance with some basic apps. They don't care if those apps are server-side or client-side (and wouldn't understand the difference). My parish priest wants to pick up email and print his sermons.

    We have had many false starts in this space. What Google can bring is the deep pockets, the brand and the ready availability of server-side applications. ChromeOS clearly isn't ready. But for a conceptual "release early", the direction they are following has a huge potential market of people who don't read el Reg. I look forward to watching ChromeOS mature into the long awaited webtone appliance.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And how will they get this to the masses?

    The reason linux isn't everywhere today, despite the annual "this is the year of linux" clarion call, is that the likes of PCWorld, Comet et al. can't support them and therefore don't push them. And there's no middleman cut for free software.

    @Trevor Pott ref local devices - sounds just like something Grandma could do. Not.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Halo

    Windows 7

    Windows 7 is the way forward.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    It's for Real People, not you lot

    I can understand people on a "tech board" not "getting" this, because none of you spend time finding out what computing life is like for "normal users" (apart from saying "duhh, Dad, press Ctrl+Backspace and then set a System Restore point, I mean, duhhhh!" etc.)

    Google are trying to make a platform which removes all of the annoyances and pitfalls that make computer life so godawful for normal people.

    None of these annoyances and pitfalls trouble you lot, so you don't really understand.

    Meantime, normal people spend their lives screaming at their computers because of endless unintelligible messages and situations, which (not that they understand this) are caused by random software doing whatever the hell it likes, endless software conflicts, software fighting to take over various roles on your computer, endless system updates, bad things happening just because you clicked a seemingly reasonable link, Et-Bloody-Cetera, Times By A Hundred.

    (My sister rang last night: her PC has slowed to an unusable crawl. I think I've worked it out - I think it's some techobollocks like "AVG9 has re-enabled link scanning" - but how exactly she could ever have worked that out herself, worked out why her £500 PC is suddenly completely, totally useless, perhaps you could enlighten me?)

    (See? To you, it's "tiny issue, trivial fix"; to her, and the rest of the 90% of normal users, it's "PC unfixably broken".)

    Google want to make a platform that does what normal people want to do, an order of magnitude more simply, intelligibly and securely than current platforms.

    If they achieve that, then you guys will come to realise that you're actually just part of the 10% of technologically-savvy dweebs, and you've spent decades selling the population computing devices that are totally unfit for their needs and knowledge (but fine for you).

    Hopefully, then, you'll get on board the revolution too.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    "but like Android it's about Google Control, not Freedom." Bullshit. I can break my android based htc hero with a shedload of 3rd party apps.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Missing the Point

    I think that most people are missing the point, Google are probably not targeting Chrome OS at the consumer market although like most Google developments this will be where the Beta testing takes place.

    Google for a number of years now, have been getting very close to Governments and Big Business this is surely the target for Chrome OS. It you take just the UK government (inc local government) there is a huge pot probably close to 1,000,000 pc's. The latest DWP desktop tender was £3 billion for 6 years desktop services, one UK gov department has close to 100,000 desktop / laptops each changed every 3 - 4 years.

    Given a web based / low cost / low carbon impact / secure (data held centrally) / low management device priced per user per month from a well respected Brand, which government director would not sign on the dotted line especially if the data was held in a secure Government Clould managed by Google?


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