Monday, July 13, 2009

Will Google Chrome OS Succeed?

The aftermath of Google's announcement Google Chrome OS continues to reverberate in the blogosphere, twitterverse and mainstream media. Pundits and experts have espoused a wide range of opinions on what exactly is Google up to. There are as many naysayers as fanboys of Google's OS project. I count myself as an interested observer, fascinated and intrigued by Google's announcement and wanting to see how it actually materialize. Why I am fascinated and intrigued?

Let me put it this way. Operating systems have traditionally been tethered to hardware. In other words, engineers design the hardware first. An operating system is typically designed around the hardware and end-users are expected to learn how to use the hardware and OS, to adapt to the hardware and OS. No wonder the ordinary folk complain about the increasing complexity of contemporary operating systems.

What Google has done is to take the user as the starting point, asking the fundamental question: "What do the average end-users use their computers for?" In other words, the starting point is not to build highly advanced hardware that necessitate a complicated OS to operate it. It appears that Google has concluded that most end-users use their computers to browse the web, check their e-mail, IM their friends, skype or twitter, check their Facebook or MySpace. Think about it. All the aforementioned activities are hardware and OS agnostic, i.e., they are accessed through the web browser in Windows, OS X and Linux systems. Hence, it makes sense for Google, as a company that derives its income from search ads, to zero in on the web usage experiences of typical end users, looking for ways to redefine and enhance their web usage experiences.

Will Google Chrome OS succeed as a paradigm shift, by moving the focus away from hardware to endusers' needs? Would it be a dumbed-down OS? Would it be so limited to be useless?

I am not a fortune teller and cannot read the future. Should an operating system be a Swiss Army knife, capable of doing everything from A to Z, resulting in bloat and complexity? Or should there be different operating systems for different needs? I use a bike or public transit for local commute, a car for long distance commute and rent a truck when I need to transport heavy stuff. Would I do the same for my computer needs? In other words, would users have more than one operating system for different needs?

Moreover, I would also argue that the Google Chrome OS should be compared, not against Windows, Mac OS X or Linux, but as something analogous to the paradigm shift that was caused by the invention of the original Mosaic browser that was developed by Marc Andressen and his team. At that time, the Internet was text driven and accessible through a bewildering range of text-based interfaces with acronyms such as ftp, gopher, usenet, etc. When Mosaic was first launched, there were hardly any fancy websites to visit. E-commerce did not exist. Neither did webmail or IM. It would be fair to say that nobody ever envisaged social networking, twittering or Facebook. This is the point I'm trying to make. Google Chrome OS could be a spectacular failure or a spectacular success. It could be a paradigm shift like Mosaic/Netscape, introducing us to new, hitherto unimagined new uses. Or it could be a dead end.

Which path would Google Chrome OS take? We'll have to wait and see.

See my other blog postings on Google Chrome OS.

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