At Google’s Chrome OS unveiling last week, CEO Eric Schmidt explained that he never wanted to be in the browser or OS business, and repeatedly tried to talk cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin out of it. They simply routed around him, hired a team, and started working anyway. Schmidt was originally hired to provide “adult supervision” to the young cofounders. In this case, they should have listened to the grown-up.
Based on what Google is showing now, unless they give away Chrome notebooks for free, there’s no reason to use one.
When building a major piece of software like an operating system, companies make a lot of choices. In the case of Windows, Microsoft has chosen to support as much third-party hardware and software as possible, to remain compatible with old applications for a long time, and to incorporate almost every imaginable function.
As a result, Windows does almost everything tolerably well, with occasional tooth-grinding frustrations like slow startup and gradually degrading performance. This in turn has created an entire industry of third-party tools to help you get back to square one, like Sysinternals (eventually purchased by Microsoft). It’s like a workhorse pickup truck with 100,000 miles–it might drive you crazy, but it gets the job done and you can usually fix it when it breaks.
With Mac OS X, Apple has focused on ease of use and experience. It does a few things with elegance and grace, but the guts of the OS are hidden from mere mortals and it doesn’t work with nearly the range of hardware and software as Windows. It’s like a Jaguar: high-performance but a little bit fussy.
Most Linux distributions are similar to Mac OS X in their out-of-the-box limitations, with one major difference: if you know enough, you can get them to do almost anything. They’re like the kit cars of computing, and will continue to find the same kind of niche audience.
But Chrome doesn’t make any sense. It does some things well: starts and resumes quickly, installs applications like lightning, and browses the Web like a champ. But that’s because it’s not really doing much. There are no native Chrome applications, only Web apps, most of which have little use when you’re offline. You can’t attach peripherals like printers or cameras. There’s no desktop, no way to delete files, and no easy way to access the file system to see where you’ve stored files on the computer.
Google has said that Chrome is all about pushing the envelope of the Web by taking advantage of recent technologies that make complicated apps possible, like AJAX and HTML5.
Fine. The Chrome browser does a great job of supporting Web apps too. So why not use the Chrome browser on an OS that can actually do other things well? Is waiting a minute for Windows to start really that much of a burden?
The whole thing feels like an engineer’s experiment, like a car that can go from zero to 60 in under three seconds but doesn’t have the burden of brakes or seat belts or a stereo system. If a small startup had come out with this thing, it would have been dismissed as a curiosity.
Worse yet, Google has another OS that works very well for highly portable, mostly-connected devices. It’s called Android, and after only two years it’s become the second most popular smartphone OS in the world.
Gmail founder Paul Buccheit is right: Google should scrap this product before it gets any farther. Otherwise, they’re throwing good money after bad.
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