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

  • zodiacfml - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    Firstly, Anand presented the article nicely with good points that have nothing I disagree. I am sure, the OS will see success similar to netbooks or the Chrome browser, not for everybody, but works very well for some.

    Anyways, as JamaCheerio above, this will save me from being free support for many people regarding their machines. I could install this thing to people who only use a computer for getting online and also think that they're almost 90% of them.

    For personal use, I could use this in an old or low end notebook/netbook which can support digital cameras(for travel purpose) which could be already in the plans of Google as many people update their online presence with pictures.
  • R3MF - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    i don't like it, and the failure of atom is not a failure of desktop OS's in light-weight platforms, fusion will fix that deficiency. Reply
  • MagmaTism - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    Just install the latest Ubuntu and Chrome to get a feel for the performance.

    I'm using a first Gen ATOM on my netbook, and the experience in Chrome feels faster than my 2.4GHz Core2Duo laptop. DOM animations are buttery smooth as is scrolling. The entire experience is blazing fast and doesn't make me want in any one area. It even handles flash content very well with smooth operation on full screen animations. The canvas also performs quite well as tested against the popular chrome experiments site and heavy Javascript apps like Google Documents load quickly and interaction has been flawless.

    Let me say this again: On my first generation ATOM netbook, the experience is flawless.

    I expect that not only will CR48 have superior hardware, but the OS will be far more optimized than mine is now, in addition to SSD which will further reduce latency and improve perceived performance. Added on top of this, is an iteration of V8 which improves performance even further, and increased GPU acceleration of website content.

    Also, thanks to recent optimizations by Adobe, flash videos consume next to no CPU for 1080p video using GPU hardware.

    I fully expect chrome OS to put more powerful notebooks running windows to shame from a user-experience standpoint -- not raw computation, of course.
  • TonyY001 - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    If apps can only be downloaded from the Chrome OS store how will companies build internal apps that they want to run on Chrome OS? Reply
  • iwodo - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    $400 is too expensive Reply
  • iwodo - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    Why does the stupid Filter continue to NOT ALLOW ME TO POST and say I post SPAM Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    "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."

    The selling point behind a netbook is not "small, cheap and fast enough". If that was the selling point then they would have a low budget low capacity SSD installed. But they dont. They ALL have craptastic 250+GB 5400rpm hard drives. Why? What good does it do to have 238 more gigabytes than you need to surf the web on Windows 7? These guys could very easily stuff a windows 7 installation onto 12GB, including hibernation space. And you only need a few extra gigs for "surfing the web". So why are there no 30-40GB SSD options on netbooks? I know exactly why. Because people dont think. They hear that stupid Intel jingle on tv 200 times a year for 15 years, then they mindlessly buy it or market it even though it is just a scam. And everyone falls for it. Where is the critical analysis? Why can I not go anywhere and buy a cheap "netbook" for "surfing the web" that has a logical storage solution? (ie 30 gb SSD, which costs maybe $10 more than a 250GB notecrap 5400rpm hard drive.) Instead we are all stuck with something that crashes the moment you jostle it.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    Correction. I forgot about the plethora of craptastic 160GB 5400rpm hard drives. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link

    Do the Windows 7 Starter TOS say anything about shipping with SSDs? Obviously more than 1GB of RAM would help too, but they don't do that often. Reply
  • aapocketz - Thursday, December 9, 2010 - link


    The original eeepc netbook ran linux on a small low capacity SSD. Then people demanded windows and big HDDs, and now thats all they sell.

    However, I am glad Google is willing to push the original eeepc type concept, and with their software knowledge they may be able to pull it off better than ASUS did. The included cellular radio may help sell it too. Just don't count on it. Sometimes I think google has the throw a bunch of crap on the wall to see what sticks approach to innovation.

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