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Could Chrome OS ever become a dominant force in the PC industry?
This week we’ve seen a number of Chrome-related announcements including new Chromebooks, the Chromebit, a revamped Google Now-style UI, and a Google tool that makes it easier to test out Android apps on Chrome OS. It’s pretty obvious that Google has big ambitions for Chrome OS, and 2015 might be the biggest year for the platform yet. But exactly how big will things get for the cloud-centric OS?
For this week’s Friday Debate, we discuss Chromebook’s potential for mainstream success, and what Google needs to do to make it appeal to even more users. Could Chrome OS every become a dominant force in the PC industry? Should Google merge its Chrome OS and Android efforts under one roof?
We’ll first start by hearing from a few AA team members, and then we invite you to participate in the poll below, and sound off in the comments. Also remember that the Friday Debate Podcast should be coming later this evening, or sometime over the weekend.
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I must admit that when I first heard about Chrome OS, back in 2009, I really didn’t think it was a good idea. However, that all changed when I got my first Chromebook a couple of years ago. Although I was skeptical at first, my Chromebook has become my main productivity device when I am away from home, especially when I am travelling and covering events for Android Authority. At home I still use my PC, but the point is that for everything except editing video or images, I basically use Chrome.
But Chrome OS isn’t yet perfect. Google is obviously experimenting with different aspects of the Chrome OS architecture. There is already some basic support for running Android apps on Chrome OS, and now Google has announced Chromebit. What does this all mean?
The biggest problem with Chrome OS is that all the apps need to be written in HTML5. Without getting into too much detail here, HTML5 has its drawbacks. In 2012, Facebook abandoned the HTML5 version of its mobile app and rebuilt it as a native app. The reason? Speed.
Organisationally Android and Chrome OS are part of the same group within Google. What Google needs to do is add full Android support to Chrome OS, while retaining the Chrome OS UI and approach.
The result will be a true alternative to Windows and OS X. In one sense it will be the vindication of Linux on the desktop. At the core of both Chrome OS and Android is Linux, but the problem with Linux is its diversity. There are too many desktop options, too many SDKs, too many UI libraries. Diversity is good, diversity allows dreamers to dreams and hackers to hack. But in the real world diversity isn’t called diversity, it is called fragmentation. And fragmentation is the death of any ecosystem.
If Google can produce a version of Chrome OS which allows traditional apps to be written via the Android SDK, while maintaining its core principles then Linux could become the dominant laptop OS over Windows and OS X. Why? Because it will be free. It will use a different business model, which doesn’t rely on licenses for revenue and it will be build around the way we work today, not the way we worked back in the 1990s.
So where does Chromebit come into all this. Simple, the more accessible Google can make Chrome OS, the more people will use it. The more people use it, the more the ecosystem will thrive. The more the ecosystem thrives, the more accessible it becomes. And so on.
However, for businesses the problem with a cloud-centric OS is really the word “cloud” means “someone else’s servers.” No organization should store its intellectual property on “someone else’s servers.” And that is where Google will need to work, to strike the balance between its vision to be the world’s largest provider of cloud services and the need of corporates to keep their data on their own servers.
When Google announced the first Chromebook, I was instantly hooked. The opportunity to purchase a well-performing computer for around $250 was an idea I could get behind, so being a broke college student, I jumped onboard. I began using the first Samsung Chromebook as my daily computer. I used it for essays, web browsing and for writing tech news. I’ve lived in the Chrome OS world for a few years, and let me tell you, it’s easy. Sure there are a few sacrifices you might have to make, but it’s very possible.
Chrome OS still has a lot of progress to make and we’re just now seeing a turning point for the operating system. Oddly enough, Chrome OS and Android used to be entirely separate entities, and we’re finally seeing them come together. But Android apps running on Chromebooks is just the start of it all. There are people out there who just can’t sacrifice Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or Adobe Photoshop, and that will always be a problem with the platform. If Google could somehow figure out a way to run the essential Windows and Mac applications in Chrome, we’d start seeing the Chrome OS adoption rate skyrocket.
The Chromebit is an interesting piece of tech, as well. For less than $100, people can run the OS on a television or an external computer monitor. That’s huge. If the success of the Chromecast is any indication as to how well the Chromebit will perform, college students who don’t have enough money to afford another computer will likely begin to adopt it in great numbers.
With all of that said, the problem with storing everything in the cloud is still a daunting idea for many consumers. Google is making big progress in the field, but like I said before, we’re still in the early stages of the platform.
So to answer the question, I don’t think Chrome OS will ever directly compete with Windows or Mac. But I do think there’s room for another OS that can fit into a niche market, whether that means strictly for education or just a budget-friendly alternative. I’m excited to see where Chrome OS is headed, and I have faith in Google that they can pull it off.
I think Google is playing a very long game with Chrome OS, which seems to be moving at a snail’s pace and even stalling at times. But I think this deceptively slow pace hides Google’s ambition to make Chrome OS the operating system of tomorrow. And tomorrow will be all about the cloud, no matter how firmly we hold on to our microSD cards and local storage today.
I think Google is aiming to create a truly universal operating system. By turning the Chrome browser into a platform capable of running web apps that are very similar to native apps, Google is subverting conventional operating systems like Windows and OS X. Already, I can sign into Chrome with my Google account, and all my extensions, web apps, history, passwords, settings carry over. I can take my wife’s laptop and get my familiar setup from my own laptop in a matter of minutes. As someone who spends 75 percent of their workday in Chrome (and I could easily go up to 100 percent if I needed) this is a hugely valuable feature.
The convergence between the Chrome browser and Chrome OS is happening steadily; I can already switch from browser mode into Chrome OS mode with one click. And it’s only going to get easier and faster to do everything in Chrome, to the point that people will effectively forget what they need Windows for. When that happens, Chrome OS devices will be a tempting choice. Just today one top Microsoft engineer said that Windows could one day become open source. If this ever happens, I am pretty sure Google’s Chrome (and Android) will be a big part of the reason. While Google is working very slowly, the fact that it’s extending Chrome OS to all-in-one PCs and TVs (Chromebit) tells me that my hunch is correct.
And there’s the support for Android apps. Soon Google will be able to make a killer proposition to developers: apps that work on Android, Windows, OS X, or Linux, via Chrome, like magic. That should make the platform even more attractive.