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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  • ant1pathy - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    I'm interested in how much government subsidy might have gone into the network build out in Slovakia, and how much government control goes into the telecomms. While the large US providers make some pretty ridiculous profits, they also cough up staggering amounts of cash for infrastructure and the latest spectrum bid, which I don't believe European companies have to pay for. Different markets to be sure, and there's no doubt which one consumers benefit from, but I'm not sure what the effect on innovation and progress would be if everything was government controlled. Reply
  • cubbs - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    "they also cough up staggering amounts of cash for infrastructure and the latest spectrum bid, which I don't believe European companies have to pay for."

    Believe what you will - the EU is not as "socialist" as you think. In most countries the telecoms are hardly subsidized at all, and pay, as you put it, _staggering amounst of cash for infrastructure and the latest spectrum bid_. However, when the companies make bids for the wireless spectrums they also accept the regulations that come with a license - ie. coverage of XX% of the population in X years with a certain SERV_QUAL level.

    I'ld rather say that the differences in the markets is the _competition_. Right here and now I can pick between 15+ cellphone/data carriers. Those who bid at the 3G licenses havent even recovered the full costs yet, and just finished bidding on the 4G licenses being rolled out next year.
    Reply
  • mino - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    None.

    The (former) landline monopoly was making money even in the communist times and was sold to T-Com 10yrs ago, still making money (and screwing anyone they can as monopolies like todo).

    All three mobile networks (Orange biggest, T-Mobile/Com second and O2 third) are fully privately funded since inception.

    The plans I mentioned were from Orange which had made the biggest 3G (and now FTTH) push in vision for challenge T-Mobile. T-com is a bit (but a still competitive bit) more pricier. O2 is relative newcomer
    Reply
  • mino - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    Uh, and of course the spectrums (only 450/900/1800/2100) are sold too.

    The cost of network build-up in 5 mil mountainous country is priced in the licenses though. (For instance they to install several hundred base stations by helicopter.) So they are cheaper even on per-citizen basis.

    But the initial NMT/GSM licenses were awarded for free back in the day. Companies were "just" required to provide a certain minimal coverage within a given time-frame. AFAIR it was 90% of population covered within a year. Or something like that.
    Reply
  • Penti - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    Lol, not even the former Soviet states have any subsidies for the private telecoms. In the wireless business at least. Funny how some Americans think sometimes. Mind you US has a lot of subsides for the old land lines and broadband connections. Not that it helps much there. The rest of the world isn't over-washed in subsides they simply do it better, and cheaper. And those in the US never see the full extent of their taxation as the money goes to private insurance and pensions instead, and school fees and so on. The labor cost for the companies aren't lower because the tax is lower then most of Europe, it's higher. But you don't see on your paycheck and you can't estimate it either how much goes to the health insurance, dental plan, pensions and other benefits that's payed through taxes in Europe. But in fact looking at the statistics you can see that your benefits costs more then the taxes for the same in European welfare states. But looking at statistics wouldn't come anybody to mind I guess. Reply
  • DLimmer - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    Do you really need more than 100MB / month roaming data?

    Maybe I'm atypical, but I do most of my browsing (and computing) at home or near free Wifi and wouldn't need to rely on the data plan for anything more than incidentals.

    This is a notebook, not an iPhone.
    Reply
  • mino - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    Well, 100MB is on the low side of my daily usage. Commonly it can become hourly usage.

    But you are right, maybe I am being a little "spoiled" by my options.
    (I have always thought) WWAN connectivity is there to keep me from hunting for hot-spots instead of accessing Internet and doing my work.

    IMHO 100MB is just about enough for checking mails on a phone.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    Well, given that I use email almost none, that would more than cover my email usage. But with ChromeOS being a different concept, where at least at the moment EVERYTHING has to come over the internet as there seems to be no access to local storage. Want to listen to music while writing? If the music were stored locally you could write for hours and use only a few hundred KB backing up your stuff, but if you are listening to Pandora that whole time make that a few hundred MB.

    At the same time, this isn't designed to be a primary computer, and users shouldn't necessarily need/expect to be downloading torrents or other high-bandwidth uses.
    Reply
  • macandron - Monday, December 20, 2010 - link

    I must say I'm equally appalled at the data rates in the US. My god.

    I live in Finland and we can get any of the following deals:
    - limitless data at 1mbps for 10€/month (2-year contract)
    - limitless data at 15mbps for 14€/month (2-year contract)

    Flexible prepaid subscription (no contract) with following options:
    - 1 week prepaid limitless data at 4mbps, 7€
    - 1 month prepaid limitless data at 1mbps, 20€
    - 1 month prepaid limitless data at 4mbps, 30€

    In other words, for the same price Verizon offers an *extra* 3GB you can get 1 month of limitless prepaid data @ 4mbps :D

    And I bet Japan has even lower rates, with their incredible amount of phones and mobile services.

    It's like the US is 10 years behind in mobile data markets!
    Reply
  • synaesthetic - Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - link

    It's ridiculous here... I use T-Mobile US, and I pay the LEAST for data among the Big 4. My plan is $65 US per month, and it gives me 500 minutes (unlimited nights and weekends, though), unlimited text and "unlimited" data which is really 5GB with a soft cap that drops you down to EDGE-ish speeds after you hit the cap.

    It's the cheapest absolutely. An equivalent plan from AT&T (with a lower HARD cap) is almost $90!
    Reply

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