Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Eric Schmidt says that Chrome OS is a thin client. Really?

Google just ended its launch event for Chrome OS and the Chrome Web Store. The Chrome Web Store will offer HTML5/AJAX applications, and it's pretty straightforward. Far more perplexing was Google's launch of its Chrome OS. The principle of Chrome OS is that it's the Chrome browser with only the necessary additional system-level hooks to control the underlying hardware of a netbook or similar device. The entire user interface is inside the browser window--there's no separate "desktop".

Google repeatedly said that Chrome OS is perfect for netbooks, and the company has been running it on its own prototype netbooks in-house. Acer and Samsung have committed to ship netbooks with Chrome OS some time in mid-2011. However, netbook sales have slowed as the iPad has gained popularity, and a flood of new tablets next year will drive netbook sales even lower.

So, will Chrome OS work on tablets? The Chrome OS team was asked about it in the Q&A session and sidestepped the question. Google didn't show any tablets running Chrome OS, and it didn't demonstrate any multitouch features. Android appears to be Google's tablet solution. If the market is moving away from netbooks and toward tablets, and Android is Google's tablet platform, why is Google putting resources into Chrome OS?

The answer was surprising. Google's Eric Schmidt said that Chrome OS is, in fact, the first commercially-acceptable implementation of the thin client architecture that Sun tried to sell years ago. Really? The reason for thin clients was that personal computers cost a lot of money and were difficult to maintain in a corporate IT architecture. Today, PCs are dirt cheap (cheaper than thin clients were "back in the day"), and it's far easier for IT departments to maintain their networks of computers.

So, does this mean that Chrome OS is being built for a platform (netbooks) that's rapidly becoming obsolete, and for an application (thin clients) that's already obsolete? Is anyone from the Android team talking with the Chrome OS team? Are they even in the same company? In short, is there anyone in charge at Google?
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