Chances are, you’re reading this article on a Chrome browser. There’s also a good (but not equally so) chance you’re reading this on a Chromebook. With the Chrome browser teetering on taking the browser throne outright, and Chromebooks gaining in popularity daily, it’s time we take a look at what’s happening with Google’s baby. There is a lot going on with Chrome, as always, and I/O may give us a glimpse into what’s next.
Chrome OS is many things, and next to nothing, all at once. As it only operates on Chromebooks, and the perhaps forgotten Chromebox, it’s proprietary to Google-blessed equipment. That equipment is meant to take full advantage of Chrome OS, and keep the operation of it dead simple and speedy.
The idea is also really simple: we use the web quite a bit, and do so much in it, so why not have a device that gets you straight there? While that seems limited to some, the days of changes are afoot. Google is set to change things up quite a bit, and some clues are right in our faces.
As much as there is changing, we’re wise to remember one crucial aspect of Chrome: it’s not open. The Chromium build, which Chrome is based on, is absolutely free and open… but Chrome OS, as it stands, is not. There is no way to simply load Chrome OS onto a device, like you can Ubuntu or another Linux distro.
To summarize, when we look at the operating system that is Chrome, we have a polished, proprietary system that has a wide open future, yet remains closed a bit. In more ways than Chrome OS, Google has the advantage here.
The browser many consider to be the best is perhaps Google’s most penetrating product. Free to download, and free to use, it is available on any platform, at any time. It has the benefit of syncing to other iterations of Chrome (like on your Android device), making it a true cross-platform champion.
Secure from the ground up, Google understands the pitfalls of navigating the Internet. Sandboxing is not only safe for the browser, it’s safe for your machine. Getting over the wall that is your browser window is difficult at best, making us feel comfortable. As the operating system is based on this browser, both are secure.
In another stroke of genius, Google makes much of the apps available on Chrome OS useful in the browser as well. It may not be the exact method of accessing the app as the OS, but the browser has the capability. When considered flatly, the browser is a trojan horse for Chrome, mimicking the OS on any device.
When we look at the browser, Google has a slightly altered, but eerily similar, version of the operating system. It can be used on any machine, meaning it not only is a cross platform champion, it’s a cross OS champion as well. This, above all, earns Chrome usership dividends.
“Just an internet machine”
That’s the knock on Chromebooks, isn’t it? As much as I’m on record as loving my Chromebook Pixel, that complaint holds merit. The device does access the browser for nearly everything, but the damning of it for doing so is short-sighted. That becomes evident more and more every day, and is about to get kicked in the teeth.
Another knock is that software can’t be loaded locally on a Chromebook. With packaged apps, that complaint begins to decay. Packaged apps will be loaded locally, and act like standalone software apps. They will not open in a browser, or be dependant on a web connection. Rather than take Chrome OS backwards to allow software to be loaded, Google has taken operating systems to the next level by utilizing local apps based on web technology. Developers just need to follow suit.
Even with packaged apps, we’ve still got at a shift toward cloud solutions. Even as Chrome begins to mature into a very real standalone OS, the push toward web apps is still very present. It may seem a conflicted gameplan, but it’s not. In fact, it makes perfect sense, considering the larger picture.
We recently saw a great push toward HTML5, which made some of us wonder just what was going on. HTML5 is fast becoming standard, which is good for everyone involved. Developers have a very universal language to write for, and that language is perfect for the future. It supports mobile well, and has CSS capabilities which make building awesome looking stuff quicker and easier than ever before. It reduces time spent programming, meaning developers have more freedom to build awesome stuff, and more of it.
With new operating systems like Firefox making exclusive use of web apps, it will be important moving forward. Packaged apps can easily support web apps, and vice versa, so we now have offline capabilities (of sorts) for web apps.
For What’s Next
That was the tagline for the Pixel, but it didn’t tell us much. If we look at what is going on now with development, we begin to see very distinctly what is happening. That change we spoke of earlier is coming quickly.
Like much of what Google is doing, the virtual keyboard is for the future. Currently being developed for Chrome OS, we wonder why Google would make something like that when only one device in the Chrome family is touch capable. Perhaps they’re readying a line of tablets, or perhaps it’s for another solution.
Recently, Intel said there would be a line of $200 Android computers that would sport detachable keyboards, much like the Transformer series for Asus. There is also news noting that Intel’s Haswell processors will be running Chromebooks in the near future. Those virtual keyboards are almost certainly for a portable computing solution, which is good news for mobile productivity.
Chrome OS is best used as a means to a productive end. You can do things with Chrome apps you can’t do on an Android app counterpart, which makes it a true enterprise solution. Given an option between a keyboard or not has a much further reaching impact to business than a traditional Chromebook. Coupled with packaged apps, the sky’s the limit for Chrome OS and business.
Chrome is, perhaps, the most versatile weapon Google has. Android has a monstrous market share, and plenty of OS’s or skins based on it, but Chrome has a different type of reach. Android can’t readily enter into the desktop realm, and it most certainly doesn’t offer the type of productivity Chrome does.
With the sheer amount of sessions Chrome has at I/O, it’s clear that Chrome is the new focus for Google. Everything from mobile HTML to gaming is being discussed for Chrome, so the time is right for Chrome to move into a leadership position. If that sounds far-fetched, it shouldn’t be. Chrome has already started leading the way, we just have to acknowledge it.