What Do Developers Think of Google Chrome OS?

Google announced its Chrome operating system on July 7 and developers have been weighing in on what it means for the developer ranks ever since the company said it was building an OS based on its Chrome browser.

Google announced its Chrome operating system on July 7 and developers have been weighing in on what it means for the developer ranks ever since the company said it was building an OS based on its Chrome browser.

Developer reaction has ranged from excitement over Google adding energy to delivering Google for the masses, to indifference over the Chrome OS being Yet Another Delivery Mechanism that doesn't really impact developers' use of the Web as the real platform for development, to skepticism.

Indeed, one prominent developer, who asked to remain anonymous, shared what seemed to typify the skeptical developer's view. Said this developer: "Is this just another door into Google's roach motel strategy, where they let me in easily but make it impossible to get out? In other words, the question I ask is 'what does Google get out of this?' And I'd suspect that their motives are not exactly pure. Altruism has its limits, and at the core, Google is just another company whose primary motive is to preserve and grow Google."

However, Kevin Hakman. an Asynchronous JavaScript and X M L (AJAX) expert, said, "The browser as the foundation for an OS makes great sense and goes hand in hand with Internet connected devices and phones. Web-based software apps just keep getting better and better and there are millions of web developers who will be able to create more and more web apps for these devices. It's going beyond a 90/10 kind of thing. Today, 90 percent of what I need to do I can do in a browser. An OS with a browser at its core will move that towards 95/5 with the five being left to things like Photoshop, video editing and 3D gaming for the traditional desktop OS."

Meanwhile, like some others, Mik Kersten, creator of the open source Mylyn project and CEO of Tasktop Technologies, said he sees the chrome OS as a bit of a "back to the future" move. Said Kersten:

""On one hand, it's history repeating itself from the Network Computer that Oracle and Sun were pushing in the 90's. On the other, the current combination of HTML and AJAX in web apps has been validated as a way more successful programming model to what existed on the thin clients of the 90's. And with netbooks needing to offload computation to the cloud, due to their limited processor and power limitations, this seems like a sensible business move if Google can pull it off.""

Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at Twentysix New York, a consulting firm, tended to agree with Kersten. "It appears that Chrome OS will be little more than a Linux -distro' with a tightly integrated Chrome browser, and that the apps it will run will be the relatively simple applications in the Google Docs suite, and ostensibly other Web-based applications that conform to specific APIs," Brust said.

Moreover, Google Gears will provide offline cache/storage capabilities, and everything will continue to run on a platform - the Web -- that was designed for rich documents rather than actual applications, Brust said.

However, "the various technologies that allow apps to run in the browser are essentially hacks and don't constitute a stable, cohesive platform, much less an operating system," Brust said.

"And even if people think the browser as a platform provides 'enough' for 'most' users, the reality is that people rely on at least a few client-based applications and they need the kind of device/display/printer/other peripheral compatibility that Windows offers," he added. "So this really looks like yet another Google side show, that's not aimed at the enterprise, and it won't even be out until the end of next year. We already tried this in the 1990s with the 'NC' (Network Computer) and Netscape's campaign to be the next OS. It didn't work then, so where's the threat with netbooks and Chrome now?"

For his part, Kersten said he believes one plus for developers from Chrome OS is that the Google "stack" will become more of a consideration. Google could make it easier to write Google Web Toolkit (GWT) applications, leverage Gears on the netbook for applications that need some offline persistence, and provide developers with other technologies that allow them to build full-featured applications that only require the Chrome OS to run.

"But what confuses me is that, for any value that Google adds to Chrome and the Chrome OS, they would fragment web developers even further," Kersten said. "For example, if Gears runs better on Chrome OS, a web app developer would need to figure out whether to primarily target the Chrome OS instead of optimizing everything for the still dominant IE browser. There's already so much pent annoyance with needing to debug and develop for every browser that developers could shy away from leveraging any special features Google adds to their 'stack.' To address this Google could invest more in GWT to insulate the developer from the particulars of the browser, and have that be an on-ramp to using more advanced features in Chrome/OS."