Google announced its long-awaited Chrome OS yesterday, and there were some very interesting surprises. While it’s clear from Google that Chrome is expected to be a real and full-scale desktop-to-netbook OS, it’s also clear that Chrome is initially targeted at a subset of the netbook line, those with solid-state disk. This shows, in our view, that Google is seeing Chrome OS as a true Internet appliance, one that presumes nearly universal connectivity and extemporaneous use.
Chrome is in many ways a novel GUI, one designed to create “panels” that support applications that are likely to be persistently needed (like a lightweight word processor). Chrome presumes a virtual user is hosted in the cloud with the Chrome OS system being a portal to that user and the user’s data. Thus, most information won’t be available on the local system if the user is offline, though it does seem that Google intends to create stronger online/offline mode operation in the future. Applications would run in what would normally be called a “browser access” model and thus would support any sort of SaaS offerings available online.
Chrome OS is open source and can be extended, and we think that developers are already hard at work creating laptop/desktop versions with disk support and some application data persistence. But this shouldn’t take our eye off the ball. Chrome OS is an “Internet-in” model of an operating system, and is far better aligned to the way we’d use computing in a broadband “always-on” future. In all, Chrome OS is a credible step toward a true netbook framework. The question is whether we’re far enough into that “always-on” future world to exploit it quickly and help it take off.