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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  • Iketh - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    never seen it Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    No, it is not. I'll talk to our ad people ASAP. Reply
  • GeorgeH - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    Cool. I wasn't fast enough to grab a screenshot or anything else, but FWIW it's exactly the same as the one Quicksilver posted (#23) in this thread:
    http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?t=20882...
    Reply
  • ProDigit - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    Quote: "The leaders in computing in the 1970s and 1980s are mostly gone today"
    Yes,that's why the software today is more like bloatware!

    In the early days software was created to function,and to be handy. Later, programs where improved in efficiency (lowest possible waste of time emulating or loading stuff) debugged and made to reach to a destination through various means (eg: some feats could be accessed by rightclicking the mouse, or taskbar,or hotkeys).

    After that (the milennia) programs where created to look nice, often running gigabytes of information running through the RAM and graphics card, for very simple instructions that would take a few megabytes at most with older software (say for instance running the OS).

    Now we're in an age where all these gigabytes are needed to be downloaded via the net.
    Stupid I'd say, why would you want to download a program over and over again, everytime you want to use it? Why would you want your computer to upload data to the net to be used for 'cloud' computing?
    As if a desktop does not have sufficient power, and your 1Mbit line has?

    The older computer guru's should re-enter the software market, because many of the newer guys really are messing up big time,wasting resources, creating stuff that is not necessary.
    If I wanted something that acts like linux, and looks like Linux, I would guess I would use linux. Not Chrome OS.
    Reply
  • Morgalomaniac - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    This seems like a mobile phone OS on a netbook.

    Listing the current batch of devices from entertainment to productivity we already have:

    PMPs - Mobile Phones - Tablets - Netbooks - Laptops/PCs

    Do we really need to wedge something in-between Tablets and Netbooks? And, if so, must we adopt yet another distinct operating system? I assume that Android and Chrome OS are in no way mutually compatible.

    Currently I'm a little confused at how this is all supposed to fit together, but I guess I'll reassess when more details are released...
    Reply
  • crazzeto - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    I think the Chrome notebook is interesting, something of a curiosity but that's really all it is to me. Frankly it doesn't fit in anywhere as far as I can tell. Sure there's an argument that perhaps it's a netbook replacement (as anand suggests), but then.... Why not just get one of the many Tablets that are getting ready to flood the market right now? Frankly you'll get a far richer experince, with something that really makes a statement about being a unique product class.

    Chrome notebook seems to pretend to be a notebook computer, with out actually being one.... At least for me, I don't see the point of this. If I'm going to have a notebook, I want windows 7 (interesting how that's exactly what they were running for a good portion of that first video demo).

    Honestly, this is something I really can't get excited about. I want a more powerful laptop with Windows 7, I want a tablet (probably the Moto Honeycomb tab).... But a Chrome notebook? Not so sure about that.

    But then agian that's just me, and I hate trying to do real work on the web. Ironic that I'm a web developer by trade.
    Reply
  • StormyParis - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    100MB/mo free, which is not enough, for *** 2 years *** which is nowhere near the useful life of any PC. After that, it's $20/mo, which costs you more, per year, than a basic, much more versatile, netbook.

    the value in the Chrome proposition boggles my mind.
    Reply
  • mi1stormilst - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    The ipad offers $15 a month and $25 a month...this is the one thing I think that all partners should embrace for global adoption. Cheap, fast enough data plans with no contracts. If those awesome new Archos tablets had 3g built in for $9.99-$25.00 a month I would never need a phone again. Reply
  • mi1stormilst - Wednesday, December 08, 2010 - link

    that this concept for an OS is utter failure without a network connection. So no 100MB will not be near enough if you are required to be connected to use the device. I live in Arizona in the Phoenix area and even in a huge metro population I have to constantly whip out my Cricket card for my laptop. If you plan on leaving it at home I suppose it may have a value as something to show your friends. Reply
  • JamaCheerio - Thursday, December 09, 2010 - link

    This is exactly what all the people I inevitably end up helping NEED! My wife, My mom, my sisters, my bone headed friends, friends of my bone headed friends. "Dude, I think I have a virus..." You know the drill. Show up to some bloated notebook just barely able to boot up. And they all do the same exact things. "I check my email, search for stuff, shop online, go on
    Facebook, print boarding passes, look at photos, type something in Office."

    If this pans out, I'm telling them all to get this. I just hope they have an elegant solution for photos & video...
    Reply

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