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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  • Roland00Address - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    Netbooks are routinely $300 or less now. $300 for a 6 cell, 160 gb hard drive for the everyday price of a Netbook in a retail store. If you wait for a sale the price is usually $249 to $279, and on a mega sale like black friday you can get a netbook for $199 (though usually a 3 cell battery). You can get a dual core atom n550 netbook for $329 to $349 (not on sale, the normal everday price at a retail location.).

    The cost of a Windows 7 Starter license is between $45 and $55
    http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2009/06/micr...
    http://www.sunrainet.com/windows-7-starter-edition...

    Google is expect there chrome netbooks to be $300 to $400. Sure part of this cost is the obscene cost of a Gobi modem (which you can get for about $100 retail) but this obscene price for a Gobi modem eats away the microsoft tax and more.

    ------

    I am just trying to see the value of Chrome as it currently is implemented. I understand it will be virus free and feel faster than a typical netbook. The problem is you will be hard pressed to sell this to the normal individual. Furthermore with the upcoming AMD Brazo (Low Power fusion) coming out in q1 2011 and retailing in the $300 to $500 range netbooks are going to feel less slow then they do now. Thus the only real advantages is it boots faster and is virus free; what you lose is all the productivity that current windows offers.

    Right now Google is offering an all or nothing for $300 to $400 bucks you can have a windows netbook something you already know and understand or you can have a google chrome netbook, something that is new and at first glance to a "normal individual" looks more limited.

    Personally I think Chrome would make more sense as an add-on to existing netbooks. If google dropped the Gobi modem requirement, then all OEMs would have to do is add a few gbs of flash memory via a mini pci express slot. You can have your windows as well as your linux operating system that boots very quickly, feels faster, and has all these free google apps. Google will still get their fabalous data mining and advertising engine and they will get it into more people's hands and thus more eyeballs.
    Reply
  • gr00 - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    I agree on the pricing calculation. In my book for such a device hardware-wise and software-wise should feel like a natural evolution of netbook. Therefore should cost the same since they offer same or trade-off features.
    Most mobile phones could do these things if there was need.

    The biggest strength of Chrome OS is the unification of tendencies during the last year or two: netbooks + web apps + cloud + ssd + new OS.
    It imho bases a new idea of casual un-personal trustfull computing which will soon become a rival to todays PC computing.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    I personally removed the Caps lock key from my work keyboard - it did more harm than good. Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    IT WILL HELP THE INTERNET FOR OBVIOUS REASONS Reply
  • Exodite - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    Win of the day. Reply
  • racerx_is_alive - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    Removing the Caps Lock key is one thing, replacing it with a search button is something else entirely.

    Instead of having to go back and erase a few all caps letters, you get a brief lag while it brings up a search box? A browser window? Something that steals the focus either way, and keeps you letters from going where they are supposed to be.

    I'm not sure that's progress.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    I need it on my home machine for games, though. Reply
  • mino - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    $20 for 1GB ? Reasonable ? Are hope you are not serious.

    wait, there is more:
    $50 for 5GB ? WTF ? and ZERO unlimited plans ? Are you joking ?

    OK, to be clear:
    I had $20 2GB plan in 2004(!) with USB EDGE modem in plan
    - mind you, it was in no way subsidized, they made big money on these)

    Now, I have, $15 plan, with 5GB FUP and no overcharge, USB 3G modem in plan
    - FUP == 64kbps after you go over it

    I can also upgrade to 20GB plan (FUP, no oevrcharge) for $30, just for kicks of it.

    All this in Slovakia, a VERY mountainous country, with 40% rural population (think <3000 villages), with 90% 3G/99% EDGE population coverage and ~$10k average yearly gross income.

    Why am I saying it ? Because from long-term mobile user experience 2GB plan, while OOK in 2004, is a joke in the time of YouTube. Hell those 5 gigs are barely there (so the FUP really helps me here).

    In the end they are selling a $400 "notebook" that is pretty much useless without $50 monthly "monopoly tax".
    Sound a real bargain up from here ...

    /sorry but I had to write this rant.
    The idea of respected journalist believing $20/GB rates are reasonable in 2010 is just SO WRONG.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    I agree that data plans are way overpriced, my praise is really due to the free 100mb per month and no contract requirements. Those two make me happy, but yes I'd like to see an overhaul of the rest of the pricing structure.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • mino - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    In my experience 100MB is about 1/2 a day of conservative browsing so it is more of a teaser that anything.
    Well is actually the single good thing that no-agreement part. Otherwise this looks a pure cash cow for Telcos.
    Reply

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