Google Says Chrome OS, Cloud Aren't Careless Computing

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-12-19

Google Says Chrome OS, Cloud Aren't Careless Computing

When it comes to cloud computing and the idea that Google's new Chrome Operating System can be a reliable portal for that movement, people either like the idea or hate it.

Chrome OS is Google's operating system to the cloud, running Web applications in the Chrome Web browser. Google stores these Web apps on its servers and provisions them. Users access applications and data generated in Google's cloud through Chrome running on a notebook, tablet or smartphone.

Chrome OS is currently being tested by thousands of people on Google's special Cr-48 notebook, which lacks local storage capabilities. Users are encouraged to give Google feedback as the company prepares the platform for a prime time launch on machines from Samsung and Acer in mid-2011.

Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the GNU open source operating system, blasted Chrome OS and the cloud at large.

Stallman told The Guardian Chrome OS looks like a plan "to push people into careless computing" by forcing them to store their data in the cloud rather than locally on machines, where they can control the data.

He added that "extensive use of cloud computing was "worse than stupidity" because it meant a loss of control of data."

"In the US, you even lose legal rights if you store your data in a company's machines instead of your own. The police need to present you with a search warrant to get your data from you; but if they are stored in a company's server, the police can get it without showing you anything. They may not even have to give the company a search warrant."

For its part, Google realizes going to the cloud means placing a tremendous amount of trust in the companies that hew to the cloud model. Rajen Sheth, group product manager for Google Enterprise, said Google isn't taking that lightly and disagrees that Chrome OS and the cloud are careless computing.

"We fully believe in the concept of cloud computing," Sheth said. "I think the number businesses [Google has more than 3 million businesses using Google Apps] that have adopted cloud computing is evidence of the security, reliability, and the return on investment for moving to the cloud."

Chrome OS for example has several new measures of security to safeguard user data, which is encrypted by default. There is also a verified boot process and sandboxing technology with which to expose plug-ins.

Analysts Discuss Stallman and Googles Clashing Perspectives

Citrix Systems, a company that buttered its bread provisioning local computer services for remote access, is on board for Chrome, even appearing at the Chrome OS soft launch this month to show its support. 

Citrix, which has 250,000 customers, could provide a great entry point for Chrome OS in the enterprises. Will consumers follow by buying Chrome OS notebooks next year? It's too early to tell, especially with tablet computers capturing mind share and market share of late.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa said Stallman makes a crucial legal argument related to data custody and control, which are significant concerns "when you think that corporations can be subject to governmental data audits without their knowing."

Even so, he believes the notion of hosting and managing workloads off premises and charging users for it on an incremental basis without a perpetual license is a legitimate business model that meets the requirements of many users in the industry.

"The question is how can privacy and data control norms or even laws can evolve to make these innovations more suitable for a broader audience," Hilwa said. "It is likely that without such evolution cloud will eventually reach a glass ceiling of adoption."

Industry analyst Rob Enderle agreed, noting that the concept of the public cloud has a lot of risks that we generally don't talk much about.

For example, Google users are daily ceding data to a company that is in the business of providing access to information not protecting it. He believes there should be enforced disclosure rules with regard to the rights Google and the user have over the data.

"People had trouble with sending their PCs in for repair and got really upset when they came back with new hard drives and no data," Enderle said.

"Imagine what will happen if there is a catastrophic failure with regard to protecting their data online or if private files leak from this service onto the Web. Particularly if it comes out that none of the Google executives would touch this service with their own private data with a ten foot pole. Next decade will be interesting for Google."



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