Google is betting heavily on the cloud with Chrome Operating System, a Web platform for netbooks that Google CEO Eric Schmidt said is predicated on leveraging reliable networks and diskless machines.
While Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac machines rely greatly on software residing locally on the hardware, Google intends Chrome OS to fuel Web applications in the Chrome browser.
With Chrome OS, users won’t download software or store data internally-data resides in Google’s cloud, supported by rows of parallel servers in data centers all over the world.
The company hopes consumers use the apps developers build and offer in its new Chrome Web Store, Google’s new supermarket for free and paid Web apps that will be accessible from Chrome OS netbooks.
Schmidt said the open-source platform, which is based on Debian Linux, provides a third choice in platforms to Microsoft Windows PC and Apple’s Mac machines, a bold statement in an era where Linux has failed to gain much traction.
“Before there was no cloud computing alternative-now we have a product which is fast, robust and scalable enough to support powerful platforms,” Schmidt said in a blog post, adding that computer scientists have long envisioned this but lacked the technology to build it until now.
However, official Chrome OS machines remain a picture in the distant future. Google had planned to roll them out to consumers this holiday season.
Bugs, performance tuning and things like the lack of a way to port camera photos to the platform threw wrenches in the company’s well-oiled plans.
Samsung and Acer are expected to ship finished Chrome netbooks in mid-2011. In the meantime, Google has created a pilot program using an unbranded netbook called the Cr-48 to let business partners, media and consumers test-fly it.
There’s no question the machine launches super-fast. In eWEEK’s limiting testing the netbook booted up in 6 seconds just by opening the lid. Powering down is also a dream. Users may tap a button or simply close the lid. No more walking from meeting to meeting with an open laptop.
“With Chrome OS and its related Chrome browser, Google is hoping to appeal to users with a simple, compelling, no-frills interface that allows them to store their information in the cloud,” Jefferies and Co. analyst Youssef Squali explained in a research note Dec. 9.
Analysts Have Guarded Optimism About Unproven Chrome
Some enterprise computing businesses are taking notice of the opportunity. Google Chrome Vice President of Product Management Sundar Pichai said Google has fielded plenty of calls about Chrome OS from businesses mulling a future in the cloud.
“We were positively surprised to the extent at which CIOs showed interest in Chrome OS,” Pichai said. “We had a lot of incoming calls from CIOs.”
Citrix is making a bold bet on the unproven Chrome OS, planning to pair it with its desktop virtualization technology next year. Adobe said it is working to improve the video performance of Flash Player 10.1, which is integrated directly in Chrome OS machines.
“Chrome notebooks provide yet another opportunity for Adobe’s 3 million Flash developers to deliver their rich, interactive content to end users,” said Paul Betlem, Adobe’s senior director of engineering.
Google will have a lot of questions to answer about Chrome OS viability for the enterprise, said IDC analyst Al Hilwa. There will be concerns about security and reliability, issues CIOs have been able to mitigate with current on-premises software.
“Large companies are still grappling with what it means to put data, applications and intellectual property on the cloud. Part of the answer will be, Whose cloud do you trust and what level of service are you likely to get?” Hilwa explained.
“If Google is to have large companies put all their assets on the Google infrastructure, they have to assure them that they can protect these assets, keep them private, allow them to be easily extracted and migrated to other clouds or to on-premises infrastructure, and importantly to offer the high levels of service that large enterprises have become accustomed to from large software vendors.”
Jefferies’ Squali sees other opportunities.
If Google cultivates a culture of Chrome OS netbook users using, say 10 Google Web services, it will have far more information to learn about user behavior. This can improve Google’s advertising opportunities, magnifying what Google does on its search engine, Squali believes.
“The Chrome OS has the potential to grow usage as much as Android did across mobile platforms, but it is too early to tell how much of the home computing operating system market share dominated currently by Microsoft-and to a lesser extent Apple-it can truly capture,” Squali concluded.