The big news the past couple weeks has been the announcement that Google is working on a lightweight OS named “Chrome OS” which Google hopes to have widely adopted for NetBook use. Google wants to do to the OS what they did to the browser with Chrome. In their words go back to basics they want the OS to be speedy simple and secure. The idea is that users won’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. Sounds good right?
I mean who likes dealing with malware and viruses? And security updates can be a pain to have to install ever couple of weeks or so.
Here’s the problem though. “The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform.”
Hold on a minute there. This sounds like all we’re getting is a web browser. How is that innovative? That’s just taking away all my applications. This is like the gun companies saying “We’ve decided to make guns safer. We re-designed them from the ground up and now instead of bullets they fire marshmallows” This seems like a pretty big waste of computing power to me.
In addition to the waste of perfectly good hardware I couldn’t help but think to myself “This is a pretty basic idea why hasn’t someone already done this?” Well someone has. A lot of people have in fact. This is the idea behind every internet Kiosk ever made. Take away everything except what the user needs to access our service. This is what an ATM is or a self checkout at Wal-Mart or an Internet kiosk in an airport. Sure you say but those are all some corporation trying to shill some product. Well ask yourself this what is google selling? Search, Google Apps, Gmail, Google Maps, etc. This is a ploy to push more people into using Google services.
This is all interesting but I wanted to know why no one had used this idea to try to leverage web apps like google has. After a couple minutes of looking I discovered two other initiatives that were doing just that.
Both are based on Linux and FireFox. Just like what we’re expecting from Chrome OS these distributions boot up into a web browser Now admittedly these aren’t as polished as I expect Chrome OS to be but you may want to give them a try none the less.
The first is Webconverger
Webconverger can run on a machine as old as a Pentium 3 with 128MB of Ram. The distribution is designed to boot of of a Live CD or USB drive but can also be installed to the hard disk or internal flash memory.
The big feature I like about Webconverger is that it already has Flash and PDF support built in. There are a couple of things I really didn’t like about this distro, the first being it doesn’t provide easy access to the Firefox menus (Tools, Add-ons, etc). The second major downfall is that there’s no interface to manage your Network configuration for wired or wireless in the os itself it has to be set with GRUB parameters and this definitely takes away from the ease of use. Another oddity is I couldn’t find a way to gracefully shut down this distro. There’s no interface aside from firefox itself and closing the window simply caused Firefox to re-launch leading me to have to shut down using the power button.
The second distribution I found was cl33n
cl33n like Webconverger has very low system requirements. They say a Pentium 2 with 128MB of ram will suffice.
cl33n will also boot off of a CD or USB drive however there appears to be no supported way of installing it to a hard disk. cl33n again boots right up into a Firefox window. Right away I noticed that the Firefox menus were clearly visible in this distro. When you close the Firefox window cl33n provides a nice menu with options to reboot shutdown or re-open Firefox window as opposed to the auto re-opening behavior of Webconverger.
The huge disadvantage to cl33n however is that there’s no PDF or Flash support built in as there is with Webconverger this really cripples it as pretty much every site providing video content is now using Flash to deliver it. And finally no wireless support Officially (I have heard unconfirmed reports that some WiFi equipped machines will connect to open networks using DHCP)
In the end I think Chrome OS is a whole lot of hype with little substance. The technology’s there already the pieces have been put together already but there’s no demand so far. It seems to me that this is the product of the idea that Google can do no wrong. But in the end we all have to wait and see. I mean who knows what special sauce Larry and Sergey’s army of elves will whip up.