This week at its Google I/O conference, the Web giant announced that Chrome OS, its long-awaited, "nothing but the Web" operating system, will soon be available for purchase, powering a pair of Samsung and Acer "Chromebooks."
My overall take on ChromeOS hasn't much changed since early developer builds of the platform first turned up nearly two years ago: I'm a fan of open platforms, and the Web is an open platform. An operating system centered on the Web stands to advance the state of the platform, which will benefit us all, so, hooray for ChromeOS.
Yesterday I loaded up a ChromeOS build from onto a Dell netbook, a Latitude 2120 with a dual-core Atom processor, and took Google's latest bits for a spin. I must say, when I wrote about ChromeOS in July of 2009, I expected Google's endeavor to have been further along than its is now. After all, the biggest hurdle for the platform remains in place...
I browsed around, processed a bit of my GMail, played around with the newly Chrome-enabled Angry Birds, and control-alt-T'd my way into the system's built-in console to connect to one of my Linux servers via ssh. What I didn't find, however, was much progress in the area of offline application support, which I view as the biggest hurdle for ChromeOS.
A visit to the "offline" tab in the Chrome browser, both in its regular desktop and its ChromeOS-bundled incarnations, still turns up the notice, "Offline Mail is not supported by your browser." What I find curious is that HTML5-based offline support in GMail works fairly well already in the iOS and Android editions of the Web app. Even RIM's much-maligned Playbook allowed me to archive, write and send GMail messages while disconnected, so I don't understand the holdup in Chrome.
According to Google, offline support for GMail, and for Google Docs and Calendar, are supposed to be coming later this summer. Whether that later is to be earlier than the June 15th date on which Chromebooks are set to go on sale, we'll have to wait and see.
Hardware Too Costly?
Most of the booing and hissing I've seen about the coming Chromebooks has been centered on the cost of its hardware, which I don't quite understand. The highest-priced Chromebook configuration is set to sell for $500, and includes a dual core Atom processor, a small SSD, and a pair of WiFi and 3G radios. The least costly, WiFi-only, Chromebook also sports a dual-core Atom chip, and is priced at $350.
The WiFi-only iPad 2 starts at $500, and iPad 2 models with both WiFi and 3G radios start at $630. I've poked around in search of the least-costly dual-core Atom netbooks, and they appear to start at $300. You may not like the idea of an All Web notebook, but given the components involved, the pricing doesn't seem out of line to me. If I'm wrong here, please set me straight in the comments below.
Chromebook and the Enterprise
Google has made clear that the Chromebook is aimed at consumers and enterprises alike, and announced three year, $28 per user per month subscriptions for the device which include support, hardware replacement, and Web-based management features. Google also touted partnerships with VMware and Citrix for providing access to non-Web apps via VDI.
In theory, this arrangement could work well for organizations. I've long had my eye on stateless, locked-down clients and on trusted computing technologies, and ChromeOS could end up actually delivering on these features in a way that Microsoft (NGSCB) and Red Hat (stateless Linux) have not.
It's good to see that Google has a game plan for serving enterprises, but ChromeOS will have to prove itself in basic, single-user scenarios before it'll be worth any consideration by larger organizations.
Show me the offline support, and we'll take it from there.