More Like A TV

During Googles Chrome OS announcement Thursday, one thing struck me as being the killer app that’ll bring the system into our homes. It’s the startup speed. In this video, a Chrome OS engineer explains how Google, by shelving 50 year-old hardware are able to make the system boot in 4 seconds; like a TV:

The general Chrome OS philosophy is being touted as it being the browser without the operating system. Google wants to deliver the initial Chrome OS netbooks as “companion PCs”, portables that won’t replace your main computer, but simply give you an incredibly streamlined web experience, the webpages being the apps. The Google-provided list of approved hardware ensures that you get to the browser fast and then… well that’s pretty much it:

  1. Build web-apps
  2. Get more people on the web, faster
  3. Profit

This web-only nature of Chrome OS dissapoints a few. My friend and colleague came in the office yesterday and pointed out that prior to the presentation he was all ready to nuke his operating system and install Chrome OS, in hopes that he would get the Google experience: really fast, really simple, really useful and otherwise hassle-free. Which it’s set to deliver, except of course for the fact that he needs his apps. Certainly it is a wee bit early to ditch your filesystem and your apps in favor of alternatives in The Cloud. Connections could be faster, wi-fi access could be more ubiquitous, available cloud storage could be larger. Mostly, there aren’t web-app alternatives for all the things his computer and current OS does.

Then again, maybe that’s just a matter of time. Google promises GPU and local storage access to web-apps, which begs the question: if it behaves like a real app, if it looks like a real app, and if it does as well as a real app, is it a real app? Perhaps Chrome OS heralds the arrival of an era of software-as-services, where we pay for access instead of acquisition.

Google is doing something incredibly smart here. On one hand, by setting requirements to the hardware, Google is ensuring that the first computers sporting Chrome OS will be full-size-keyboard-netbooks built and tuned exactly for sofa-side Facebook and Wikipedia. These portables aren’t marketed as personal computers, they’re simply windows to the web. Chrome OS will be profitable from the start, simply because it makes the web more like a TV. On the other hand, Google is building for the future. They’re ensuring that webapps — of which Google themselves currently controls the best of the bunch — will run faster and do more things.

So, sure, it’s a bit early to go full-on Chrome OS on your main computer. Photoshop.com likely won’t cut it at Vogue yet and no matter how fast Facebook runs it means squat if you need to edit HD video. Give it 5 years, however. Google may be on to something here, and I for one can’t wait to ditch the file system.