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


View All Comments

  • Tleilaxu Ghola - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link


    Out of the thousands of posts I have mulled through today throughout the internet, this post takes over the top spot as my post of the month. This thread makes me lol, literally.
  • mrBug - Sunday, December 12, 2010 - link

    Hehe obviously the stable version will be Cr-52 :-D Reply
  • seapeople - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    12 inches? Come on, that's way too big. This thing is basically junk until they come out with a 7" version. Who wants to lug around a giant 12" computer all day? A significant portion of the population has bone cancer, some of them children. Why won't someone PLEASE think of the children! Reply
  • Griswold - Friday, December 10, 2010 - link

    Indeed. Unfortunately, Acer and Samsung will be doing their usual thing and sell us these cheap-ass looking, glossy toys instead. Reply
  • efeman - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    Anand, regarding the drive: the line "What did we leave out? Spinning disks, ..." in the above link implies an SSD.
  • kepstin - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    I've heard from someone I know at Google that not only does the pilot laptop use solid state storage, but all notebooks sold that want to use the Google Chrome branding will be required to have solid state, in order to meet the boot time targets. No idea if this will actually hold true, when the manufacturers want to start cutting costs... Reply
  • Taft12 - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    An OEM laptop HD bottoms out at about $40 at retail (lower for large PC hardware players). I'm not sure an 8GB SSD with terrible performance like the one in my Dell Mini 9 would be any more and might even be less. I like the direction this is pushing the market! Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    Fixed! Thanks :) Reply
  • Roland00Address - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    Why would this computer be more advantageous than any other netbook and a simple dual boot (7 Starter and Chrome)? Reply
  • Taft12 - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    Your dollars that would go towards the Microsoft tax instead go towards a modem and data transfer. This is the easiest decision I've ever had to make. Reply

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