I wonder if I’m the only one having major deja vu with some of the details emerging about Google’s Chrome OS? Think back with me to fifteen(-ish) years ago when Windows NT was the new scary thing coming out of scary Redmond. But then…a visionary (or hallucinationary–sometimes it’s hard to tell) started talking about thin clients and abandoning OS tyranny.
From what I’ve seen so far, Google Chrome OS is little more than Larry Ellison’s thin client vision version 2.0. The only difference is that now we have broadband and monstrous server farms in the back rooms. In the end (again so far as I’ve seen), Chrome OS is still just a terminal interface to server-based computing….oh, excuse me, the current obfuscation is “the cloud”.
Is this a bad thing? Yes and no. Yes because Internet connectivity isn’t ubiquitous. There are dead zones. Broadband in many places isn’t nearly as broad as in others. No because it does centralize the updating of apps, the storage of data, and (perhaps most importantly) the backing up of data. Yes and No because it reduces the number of failure points. This makes it both easier to maintain and easier to maliciously target.
Over the past four decades I’ve been playing with computers, I’ve seen a ton of evolution. I’ve bought a LOT of software that has gone from cutting-edge, to obsolete, to antique, to (finally) archaeological. I’ve had paper-tape shred, punched cards dropped/folded/spindled/mutilated, 8″ (yes… eight-inch) floppy disks stop rotating in their sleeves, hard drives forget their directory structures, CDRs explode, and on and on. Needless to say, I understand the fragility of data to a very profound depth.
Science fiction author Robert Heinlein noted that, “You railroad when it’s time to railroad.” That means that regardless of how useful an idea, it can never succeed until all the necessary technologies are in place. It also implies that invention has an inevitability once the necessary technologies are in place. Thus it is with thin-clients. The world wasn’t ready for them in 1993. 2009 might be different–not because the idea has changed, but the technology has caught up.
Will I use Google Chrome OS when it comes out? Probably. Most of us will likely be touched by it even if we don’t embrace it. If you use Google for email, documents, image search, browsing, or any number of other apps it provides, you are already acclimating yourself to what you’ll have with Chrome OS. Sure, it will have to expand its application software base to meet more needs, but that’s bound to happen. I think, though, we still need to be mindful. For example: the new gee-whiz phone, Droid, includes real-time GPS. This is great….as long as you’re receiving a signal. Stand-alone GPS devices have their maps downloaded and stored into them–no WiFi, no “cloud”.
There is still a lot of development and information to come out. It will be interesting to see if Google Chrome OS stays in the cloud or if it morphs (via an offline ability) into more of a traditional OS.