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

  • dustcrusher - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    I'd like to see some of the developers and designers at Opera come up with an Opera OS concept, just for kicks. It'd be an interesting read.

    Opera seems to be less...obnoxious about wanting user data than Microsoft, Google, or Apple do- I can't really back it up with facts, but it just seems like they wouldn't be as hellbent on getting as much marketing info on their users as possible.

    The real question (which you indirectly suggested) is would they be the same if they were able to release OperaOS, and the answer is probably "only slightly less so."
  • gr00 - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    Haha I was thinking the same thing when I heard about ChromeOS. Opera is my browser of choice.

    How are opera different? Take a look at security concerns with google that everyone just seems to have forgotten by now. First googlemail, than chrome browser, then ChromeOS. And it's evolution of google's idea of privacy and what of your data actually belongs to them. Google is way above Microsoft and Apple in this respect. And now you put all your data on their servers, without the option to use only local storage. How is this better than a virus?
  • nitrousoxide - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    So Chrome OS is gonna use very little computing power, right? What level of computing power does it require? I guess a GPU capable of hardware acceleration is essential 'cuz we got lots of HD videos on Youtube today. Won't Ontario APU be a good choice? Atom is just uncapable of handling that. Reply
  • ckryan - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    I hope Chrome becomes a true netbook alternative. I like the developer version seen in the pictures. I hope the lack of branding and silly aesthetics are left out of the final designs. The pictured netbook looks awesome... simple, and while I like my function keys and ctr/alt keys, I like the restrained keyboard design. Can't wait to see how it shakes out. Reply
  • Kamen75 - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    I would hope that Google would build a Gaming service like OnLive into these netbooks or just use OnLive itself. With all the heavy lifting being done by their own servers today's standard $299 Atom or better based netbook would work for this service. Add in hdmi output and you could possibly have a console grade gaming device at no additional cost. Just buy some controllers and subscribe to the service. Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    Lets put this idea of a "Microsoft Tax" to rest.

    At $299 - $399 for chrome based netbooks, they cost the same as a Windows 7 based netbook such as the HP Mini's. Obviously Microsoft must figure they are making some money off of the deal somehow, but where ever it is it isn't passed on to the customer since the prices are the same.

    So whee is this mysterious "tax" I keep hearing about if I pay the same for either one?
  • Akv - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    I'm not sure, I don't know but Google may be engaging in a gross missunderstanding.

    I mean since it is based on Moblin Linux, why not get a netbook with a light Linux that would let me install anything, retain full control on my files, access anything on the web, and even... access Google apps online if I wish ???
  • GeorgeH - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    Beyond the giant middle finger to Microsoft and possibly Intel if ARM takes off, what is Google getting out of this? Are you going to be locked in to Google services (Google search, Gmail, etc.) or will Bing and Hotmail work too? Does the OS include "anonymous" user tracking/profiling for targeted advertising like other Google services?

    Basically, what's Google's game here?
  • skjef - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    From what I can tell so far, you _need_ a Google account just to boot the thing up. You'll be automatically logged into any Google services you use like Youtube or search, which track your activity anyway.

    The default email/docs/search is all Google, which most people won't bother to change. Google makes all their money on advertising, so it seems like their game is just to get more people browsing the web faster. More page views = more advertising dollars.
  • GeorgeH - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - link

    I've gotten the same lame "Voice Five" popup (not a separate window, just slapped over the content) twice today, and only on Anandtech so I'm pretty sure it's on the AT side. Is it new AT policy to allow popup advertisements? Reply

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