Microsoft’s Inaction

Fail to adapt and you’ll usually leave a lane open for a competitor to come in and innovate. Although Microsoft dominates the netbook market, I don’t know a single person who would call using a netbook running Windows 7 a pleasant experience. There’s a ton of disk swapping, applications can take forever to launch and although you can do a lot with a netbook, you typically don’t want to. Microsoft needed to provide a lightweight OS optimized for the netbook experience a couple of years ago. It didn’t. So Google is.

The selling point behind a netbook is that it’s small, cheap and fast enough for browsing the web. The problem is a netbook isn’t fast enough for running the OS that you need to run in order to get access to the web.

Microsoft refused to revamp the OS, so Google decided to put forth an OS based around a web browser.

It’s called the Chrome OS and it’s built off of Intel’s Moblin distribution of Linux. and it's built off of Google's own Linux distribution (ed: sorry for the mixup, Google tells us our earlier Moblin information was incorrect). There’s no conventional desktop, you turn on your Chrome notebook and meet a login window followed by an instance of the Chrome web browser.

Google first announced it almost a year ago, but yesterday it fleshed out additional details about the Chrome OS and the first platform to use it.

Learning from Our Mistakes

There are two things that plague the PC user experience: security and ease of use. If you’re a software vendor, there's a third one too - piracy. When building this new category of lightweight OSes and platforms, most vendors want to be the next Microsoft while avoiding making the same mistakes.

It turns out that you can solve a lot of these problems the same way: by closing off the platform.

Chrome OS is a lot like a modern smartphone OS. The only way you can get applications onto the device is through Google’s Chrome web store, and the only way to get applications into the web store store is to have them approved by Google. Right away that means viruses, malware and things that would hamper the user experience are out. The same approach is taken by Google with Android as well as Apple with iOS.

Google further improves security by sandboxing virtually all aspects of the Chrome user experience. Individual apps don’t have access to one another and everything running on a Chrome OS system is version checked against basic code stored in read only memory to make sure unapproved code isn’t running. If it is, the OS can warn the user and automatically restore itself to a known-good state.

All user files are encrypted on disk and decrypted upon use using your login username and password as a key. As long as no one has access to your password, they can’t access anything you’ve stored on the system.

All OS and app updates are handled automatically by Chrome OS. Updates are installed as they’re available similar to how the Chrome browser works on your PC or Mac today. By default you never have to interact with an update dialog box, updates just happen automatically. Unfortunately as we’ve seen with the Chrome browser, this can result in unexpected instability if Google pushes out an update that wasn’t well tested. But from a security standpoint, having a constantly updated OS and apps ensures that security will never be compromised by a user failing to install the latest updates or patches - a definite problem that faces PC users today and one Google hopes to avoid on systems running Chrome OS.

Although this all sounds very Apple like, Google is committed to offering a free-for-all mode at least on its Chrome development platform. The first Chrome notebook that Google is providing as a part of its pilot program features a physical switch underneath the battery that allows developers or enterprising users to turn off all restrictions and run any code you want on the system. Presumably this includes installing your own OS on the hardware or whatever software you’d like. Assuming this feature makes it to retail Chrome notebooks, you shouldn’t have to worry about jailbreaking your system.

The New World Connectivity Brilliance: Free Cellular Data with Every Chrome Notebook
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  • tipoo - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    Yeah, its just a prototype to test the OS but I really wish manufacturers used this kind of design more often! No logos, no curves, no patters, no glossy black plastic, nothing but what matters. Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    *patterns Reply
  • yzkbug - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    Looks like a lot of us here share the same vision of how notebooks should be designed. Here is an idea. Let’s start an open-hardware project (analogous to an open-source project) defining what our notebook should be (high quality LCD, no 16:9 screen, no gloss, thin bezel, no-flex keyboard, etc.) May be one day, a notebook manufacturer will hear us and turn it into a real product. Anand, do you want to drive this? ;) Reply
  • Dug - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    Hear hear!
    It seems so obvious, but good ol stupid marketing and project managers can't get it through their thick heads to listen to customers.
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Tuesday, December 14, 2010 - link

    Perhaps your wants aren't what the majority of people want; and since price is based off supply, demand, and cost, perhaps they really don't want to lose.

    When you start specializing, you lose an economy to scale. There are higher manufacturing costs, which means it'd cost more for the rest of the people, which equals less sales, which equals less profits. This is one of the reasons why the Dell manufacturing process was so successful; they used only a couple of base models so that prices would not be as high.

    But I agree, having some variance in design would be nice. I would not call it "open-hardware", I'd call it "open-design", which could encompass hardware as well as software.
    Reply
  • Computer Bottleneck - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    I like that idea, but what platform/OS would that go best with? Reply
  • mrBug - Sunday, December 12, 2010 - link

    AROS !!!!!!!!!!!!!! Reply
  • gr00 - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    I wouldn't call it open hardware because open-source hardware already exists, more like "sensible notebook design initiative". Definitely agree on "no 16:9 screen, no gloss", many of those are just standards that I hope will come to pass. Reply
  • GullLars - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    I liked the design, with exception of connectivity options (seriously 1 USB, and no external storage?), but the name is not thought through.
    The reference platform is called Cr-48, which is a very unstable radioactive isotope (λ < 24 hours) of the element Chrome (nr 24 in the periodic table)... Cr-52 is the most abuntant stable isotope, and would make a better name for a computer...
    Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    Nah. This is a public beta of sorts, its going to be buggy. Naming it after the stable molecule of Chrome would ruin its name, naming it after an unstable isotope with a short half-life makes sense for this :) Reply

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