Google Chrome OS: A lot to do about Nothing

Google is known for doing many things right. Despite giving them a hard time over the years, it’s undeniable that my life still revolves, in a very real way, around Google products. I use Gmail not only for, er, Gmail but I use Google Apps to run all my email services including my public email.

Likewise, my analytics for this and other sites is Google Analytics (for those scared by big words, analytics is how I measure traffic and visitor interaction on the site). This blog, which is powered by WordPress, implements Google Gears to speed up transactions on the backend and Gears is used also to provide offline support to Google apps I run.

Google Search probably will never be replaced by Bing in my world.

My BlackBerry has a Gmail app and Google Maps, both of which I find to be imperative. Likewise, I use Google Talk for IM and I have apps for that on both my BlackBerry as well as my iPod Touch (The Jesus phone without the Great Satan called AT&T).

In other words, try as I might, I can’t not love Google for so many things.

Yet… I just can’t get excited about the announcement in recent days that Google is coming out with a new operating system, expected in 2010, that will be based on it’s Google Chrome browser (which I don’t use because it’s Windows only).
For all that Google has done right, they completely just insulted us and most of us haven’t even figured it out yet. We’re all caught up in Shiny Object Syndrome, the likes of which are similar to Applegasms surrounding a new “Our Father who Art in Cupertino” product launch. We’re just not thinking straight.

Here’s why.

Google Chrome is a Browser. While it’s a powerful browser, it is simply a browser. It cannot run applications. It cannot mangle CPU cycles, assign process IDs to other applications, or control memory allocation for an entire computer. It’s not built that way. It’s built to be a browser.

The evidence that Google knows this (and Fake Steve Jobs does a nice job of pointing out why Operating Systems take 20 years to build right) is that it plans to use a Linux kernel. There you have it. A Linux kernel.

Ah ha, you might say. Linux has been proven to be an exceptional embedded operating system over the years, and with that, I’ll agree with you. It makes perfect sense why Google would build their new operating system on Linux. It’s proven its ability over the years to be an operating system for many devices, computer and non-computer alike. Why change now. God, those kids are smart over at Google.

Here’s the thing… All of the technology pundits, and Google themselves, are calling it a new operating system… when it’s far from it.

In fact, Google should be calling it a new Desktop Manager similar to KDE, Gnome or, heck, even the desktop manager app that’s built on Open BSD for the Mac OS X software. The operating system is Linux. For what it’s worth, Mac OS X should probably be called a Desktop Manager software too because it’s built on BSD, a Unix variant.

There is nothing about an upcoming Google Chrome OS that can operate a system. Not within a year. That’s why they are using Linux.

I love Google, but folks need to step back and be a little objective. I mean, just a little.

20 Replies to “Google Chrome OS: A lot to do about Nothing”

    1. As I said on Twitter, considering the speed at which Chrome came out of beta and into Stable on the launch platform, I won’t (and reasonably can’t) consider Chrome released for Mac (or Linux) until it’s stable.

      1. From what I’ve heard from Google Chrome for Mac users I know, it’s lean and it’s fast and it’s actually already more stable than either Firefox or Internet Explorer.

  1. I think it can be considered an OS that they built. They have already stated they are going to change A LOT security wise which has lead to some significant backlash from the linux community.

    No one defines an OS anymore simply by its core. By what you are saying, Ubuntu isn’t an OS either, neither are all those other distros. A windowing system is near needed to be considered a functional OS.

    1. Yep:

      Considering that Linux is just a kernel, they have revamped the security system, and they have tight web integration, they probably had to fiddle with a lot of GNU/Linux parts (did they even use GNU?). So without knowing exactly what Google did, it’s just not fair to not call it a new operating system…

  2. I dont get it.
    First, very few people use Chrome
    Second, what does this mean “Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel” ? Is google is repackaging Linux with pre-installed Chrome ? Why the hell is everyone hailing it as a new masterpiece ?

  3. And Windows was built on MS-DOS for quite a while.

    Quibble as you wish about the base component of the product, but the fact is that what people care most about is the user end. Operating system? Desktop Manager? Operating Environment? Graphical Desktop Software Management Operating Interface System Environment?

    Po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to.

  4. Correct, it may not be an operating system, but that aside the true punch in the news release is that google will have a product fighting side by side with Microsoft windows. Given that you already use google for a ton of other reasons, wouldn’t you give this a try. Don’t you think others will (like baby-boomers) who wouldn’t dare touch linux, but probably are at least willing to use other google products.


    1. No, I’m happy with OS X which is also fighting Windows side by side and has a much better chance than a half-baked solution from Google to market Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs…

      1. As long as OS X can’t be installed on ANY x86 machine, it’s not directly competing with Microsoft. I always wanted to see Apple opening their system up, but now Google stepped in and I’m really thrilled to see what’s going to happen!

        Please point me to the information on which you can conclude Google’s attempt is “half backed”. Looking at Android, their attempts seem to be very sophisticated. I’d rather bet my money on any open operating system than a hardware locked solution from any company. Time will tell though.

  5. My take on it is that they’re building a package that makes a netbook run one application — Chrome. You want to edit a document? It’s a Google doc inside Chrome. Email? Gmail through Chrome.

    All this argument about “is it an OS” is just people trying to fit this into their definition of what an OS is. Sure, the OS is technically Linux. But we’re getting off the “OS runs compiled binaries that manipulate data” model to “whatever-you-want-to-call-it is a web browser that runs HTML and Javascript (and probably Flash)”. Even the fact that it’s running Chrome is irrelevant.

    This is going to be a super stripped down Linux distribution that has the sole job of running a web browser. Because they only have to support one application they can tune the performance and security of the Linux kernel accordingly.

    Look back at the comic book that was released to explain Chrome. This is what they had in mind all along.


  6. Tell me more about the “Jesus phone” (iPod Touch without AT&T and with Google Talk)…I’d love the benefits of an iPhone without the stench of AT&T/SBC/Cingular hanging in the air.

  7. Once it moves beyond netbooks and if computer manufacturers make it there standard OS than it could be something BIG. But because Windows 7 will be out before than it could meet the same fate as many other of Googles non search products, nothing. But time will tell and if nothing else congrats to Google for stepping foot in the OS realm.

  8. say i write a new operating system. i write a new kernel. new windowing system. new desktop environment.

    hey this looks familiar. kindof like my old mac. and my flatmate’s windows pc. hang on, it looks a lot like my linux box too.

    what google have done is removed the stuff you don’t need – and hidden the stuff you don’t need to see. it isn’t about what is new in google’s OS – there aren’t any amazing new inventions – it’s about what isn’t old. no desktop metaphor. no mixture of archaic programming languages. no “applications”. no C:\. and for this, they deserve our attention. while linux as a kernel and the web as a platform are not perfect, they’re sure as hell better than yet another UNIX-like kernel with yet another overlapping window manager and yet another mindless application of the desktop metaphor all written in yet another C spinoff with yet another incompatible API bound to yet another scripting language.

    a significant step in the right direction, in my opinion.

  9. I bought a netbook last year with Linux. It’s OK, but if Google’s Chrome would make it better and make the netbooks cheaper, than I would like that. I’m not a power user at all and would really like to see netbooks at $100 so more people without a laptop could have one for just the basics.

    1. Yes, this is the core idea. Make notebooks cheaper and faster and remove everything else . It’s not a masterpiece, it’s targeted at people who want to do just the basics. It’s really a high demand in this field.

  10. Reading the story and comments that agree with it, I can’t help but think, “that’s exactly what they said about Mac OS X. Just another shell over BSD Unix.”

    The fact is that if Google entirely replaces the UI, and revamps the security, and changes a bunch of hooks so things work differently, and writes a bunch of APIs that programmers like and start using, then for all practical purposes, it’s a new OS.

  11. Excellent points, it is simply a browser and has no cpu tools, memory tools, data processing tools and a massive amount of other necessities needed to bring an out of the box. If they really want to create a great browser, they have some massive hurdles to overcome and they will need to hire a massive new programming staff with knowledge of programming that isn’t web based. I am curious to learn more

  12. Good article but it is off the mark with the complaint about Chrome being a “new OS”. Yes it will be built on Linux kernel but it will BE a new OS. SUSE is a different OS than Ubuntu even though they are both built off of the Linux kernel. MAC OSX is built off a Unix kernel but it to is viewed as new or separate OS than Unix (because it is stable yet user friendly in opinion). So I believe this is not only doable by Google it is brilliant.

    The Chrome OS is more a play for the convergence of phones, desktops and netbooks/laptops than a play to compete with Mac or Microsoft for a PC based OS. Google, in true Google fashion, is anticipating where things will ultimate be and heading there now. They have done this time and time again to Microsoft with the web search engine and online apps. Now they are just realizing and acting the idea of the future of personal computing and the downright coolness of tying all of our personal computing devices together with one OS.

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