What Google Chrome OS Means for Computing
I don't often write about tech issues, but so much is being written about the Google Chrome OS announcement I thought I'd weigh in.
On the surface, the announcement of a Google operating system seems to many like a shot at rival Microsoft, an attack at MS's core business. But those who have been following Google's moves know that it's more than that — it's an (expected) evolution in Google's long-term strategy.
Google is moving everything online, and I really believe this is the future of computing. The desktop model of computing — the Microsoft era — is coming to an end. It'll take a few years, but it will happen.
The Old Model
For years, the OS has used the desktop analogy, with folders and files, all stored in a big file cabinet (your hard drive). And applications such as Word have run from the hard drive.
What this has meant is that, in order to insure against computer crashes (which are eventually inevitable), you've had to back up your files to a remote disk (another drive, a CD-ROM, etc.). It also has meant a headache when it comes to accessing your files and programs from multiple computers — you have to save and sync files all the time, and buy and install multiple copies of applications.
It's also meant a lot of headaches when it comes to filing and finding your files, and sharing them with other people (this had to be done using floppy disks/CDs, or more recently, email attachments).
Finally, operating systems, trying to do everything, have become bloated and slow, taking up a lot of your computer's processing power, memory and storage.
The New Model
Google's model is based on connectivity to the Internet, a model that was unthinkable a decade ago and has only been really viable in the last few years as almost everyone has high-speed connections and wi-fi or mobile access.
Google has moved applications, and increasingly, our files, to the web (or cloud). It started with Gmail's success — a fast, powerful online email app that beats desktop email apps hands down. It expanded with a suite of simple web apps: Google Calendar, Docs & Spreadsheets, Google Reader, Picasa for photos, eventually YouTube for video, Blogger for writing for the web, and more.
These apps are lightweight but powerful. They aren't as feature rich as desktop apps, but here's what many critics don't understand: in today's (and tomorrow's) computing world, they don't have to be.
While the business world has long used Microsoft Word to create rich documents full of formatting and charts, the increasingly mobile world doesn't care about any of that. We send emails and text messages and tweets and messages on Facebook and forums and other social media — with no formatting at all. We do blog posts that have bold and italics and links and photos and videos and not much more in terms of formatting text.
We don't need feature-bloated Microsoft Word anymore. Nor Excel, with its 2 million features, nor PowerPoint (who likes to watch slides?). Sure, there are still some great desktop apps that people use, for photo and video editing and much more … but the majority of us don't need those. We need to communicate simply and quickly, without hassle.
Web apps don't match up with desktop apps … but that's a good thing for most of us who use the new computing model.
Web apps are lightweight and fast. They store all your files online, so you don't need to worry about syncing them or carrying around CDs or flash drives, or backing up. You can share with anyone you like, or everyone, with a click.
This is what the computing world is becoming, and will be for many years. Google has driven these changes, and when it announced the Chrome browser last year, that was an obvious move to make the browser handle web apps better.
The Chrome OS is an obvious move to make computers bypass the old model of desktop apps and files and folders, and go straight to the web, web apps, and online files. Chrome OS will be lightweight and fast (like the Chrome browser), it will feature web apps and not much else, and it will be perfectly aligned with how more and more of us are using the web — with mobility, speed, sharing, and connecting in mind.
Why Google Music is the Next Logical Step
If you read the Google Chrome OS announcement carefully, you'll see an interesting item:
"[People] want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files."
This obviously means Google OS will store all its files online — then people don't need to worry about backing up the files, and if they lose their computer, nothing will really be lost.
And that makes sense, considering that Google has moved almost all your files online if you use its web apps: emails, photos (in Picasa), videos (in YouTube), documents (Google Docs & Spreadsheets), even pdfs now.
Almost all of your files.
The average user has one other type of file, though: mp3s. Sure, I know there are many other types of files, but I'm only concerned with what most people use computers for these days — email, online reading and social stuff, video, photos, music. And Google has not moved music online yet.
There are already sites that do this, but they're not Google. So either Google will buy one of the online sites (like it did with YouTube and Blogger and Writely, which became Google Docs), or it will create its own.
Your mp3s will be stored online, and you'll be able to play them from anywhere. This will complete Google's goal of keeping all your files online.
Concerns: Connectivity and Privacy
There are two main concerns that people have when cloud computing or web apps are brought up, so we should talk about them briefly:
1. What if you're not connected to the cloud? You might lose your Internet connection and lose access to your files. This is not a concern for most of us, as we're almost always connected, more and more each year, especially with data plans on mobile devices (ala the iPhone). However, Google is already addressing this issue with Google Gears and HTML5 — you'll be able to access your files and use web apps even when offline.
2. Do I really want Google to have all my files and info? This is a valid privacy concern, and I don't have an answer. My personal feeling is that I don't have any data that I'm incredibly worried about losing or that might become public. I highly doubt Google would be interested in browsing through my files, as they're not very interesting. And if Google uses my data to serve up better ads … what do I care? I don't look at their ads anyway.
However, I understand the privacy concern. It may turn out to be an important issue, or it might just be something we learn to live with, as we have with many other privacy issues (government having access to our financial data, Microsoft getting info from our computers, etc.).
Update: More info on Chrome.
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