While half the blogosphere was still rattling on about Michael Jackson’s corpse, Google quietly announced that they are developing their own operating system.
This is what that means, and more importantly, what that means for you.
There are three major operating systems: Windows, Linux, and Macintosh OS. Although each of them are available in multiple flavors and versions, they were all written to run on desktop computers and have been adapted over time to (A) also run on laptops and (B) work harmoniously with the Internet. They’ve been adapted to do a lot of other things too, so many things that operating systems in general (specifically Windows) have become enormously bloated. To give you an idea just how much operating systems have grown, the last official release of Microsoft DOS took up around six megabytes of disk space; my Windows XP directory takes up more than four gigabytes. Despite what Arnold says, that’s definitely a tumor.
Way back in the stone age of computing they had things called “dumb terminals”, which looked like computers but had no processing power or storage of their own. Essentially they were just monitors and keyboards and connected to mainframes, which were (and are) gigantic computers that did all the work. These dumb terminals offloaded all their major processing and storage somewhere else (the mainframe). In the late 70s/early 80s we had the personal computer explosion, followed a few years later by the introduction of “thin clients”. Thin Clients are computers that offload all of their major processing and storage somewhere else. If you think that sounds a lot like dumb terminals, give yourself a cookie. (Those of you who have been in the computing field long enough know that history tends to repeat itself.) Thin clients never really caught on and companies went back to releasing increasingly powerful personal computers. And while some companies were doing doing that, other companies started to say, “you know, in the Internet (aka “the cloud”) we have all this spare processing capabilities and storage that people could use! That brings us to the age of Cloud Computing, in which slimmed down clients have begun offloading all of their major processing and storage somewhere else (the cloud). See? History repeats itself! Give yourself another cookie!
There are advantages and disadvantages to cloud computing. The good news is, there are all these servers out there in “the cloud” willing to process things for you and store files for you. (The bad news is, any of these places could disappear tomorrow. If they disappear and happen to take your data with it, well, the proverbial phrase “shit out of luck” comes to mind.) But anyway, the great thing about cloud computing is that since all those powerful servers are sitting out there running these big programs, you don’t need nearly as much processing power as you once did. The only part you run on your computer is a web browser to GET you to those machines in the cloud — all the “heavy lifting” (so-to-speak) is done remotely.
You with me so far? Good. Hang in there.
So here comes the problem. Up until now, laptops have basically been designed and thought of as “portable desktop computers”. Sure, physically they have smaller keyboards, smaller hard drives and smaller parts, but essentially, they’re just regular computers. Just smaller. People put the same operating systems and programs on their laptops and their desktops.
But now we have “netbooks”, which are similar to laptops but even smaller. Netbooks have (on average) less RAM, slower processors, and less storage space than the typical laptop … and the reason for that is (drum roll, please) that they are designed to work WITH THE CLOUD. You won’t need as much hard drive space if you’re saving your documents in online storage folders, and you won’t need a powerful processor if you’re using online applications.
But the problem currently with netbooks is they are being pulled in two different directions. Sure, people are using them in conjunction with the Internet, but we do that with our laptops and personal computers as well. Additionally, we are having to take those three main operating systems originally designed for desktops and adapted to laptops and shoehorn them onto these tiny netbooks. The hardware is there, the idea is there, but the operating systems aren’t. It’s like designing a subcompact car for commuting and then cramming a V8 in there because that’s all you had lying around. It just doesn’t fit.
Go back to Google. They’re this little company that created a search engine you’ve probably heard of and/or may have used. Google does more than run a search engine; they develop apps as well. In fact, over the years they’ve developed a lot of apps, all of which you can either access from the Google portal. You’ve probably heard of Google Maps and Gmail, but they have a lot more. There’s Google’s Picasa, their image organizer, Google Docs, their online answer to Microsoft Office, Google Calendar, GDrive (their online storage solution), and lots more. In fact, as of about eight months ago all Google was missing was a browser to have everything they needed for their own operating system. Then came Google Chrome, their own browser — and while lots of people were excited about this, a few people (including myself) deduced that Google was probably working on their own operating system.
Which now, we know is true.
So what exactly is Google Chrome OS? It’s an operating system in progress. It’ll be open source, like Linux, which means (A) anyone will be able to modify it, and more importantly, (B) anyone will be able to write applications for it, although the press release does mention that “for application developers, the web is the platform.”
The most important paragraph in the press release is this one:
Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.
That says a lot. As Google mentions that they are designing the operating system “initially for notebooks”, that tells me that the operating system will be very thin and that we (as users) won’t be changing it much.
A few other quotes from the press release:
“[People] want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them.”
The reason Windows (and any other operating system) runs slower after owning it for a while is because it grows. Every program you install in Windows writes to the registry. Everything you do in Windows searches the registry, which takes time. Every font you add to your system makes it boot just a little bit slower. The more programs you have running in your taskbar, the more memory you’re using. The more programs you have on your hard drive, the longer it takes to find data. The fact that Google is saying that their operating system will not slow down over time tells me that very little will be written to the OS itself.
People complain that “over time, Windows breaks down”, but that is not true. If you install Windows on a machine, boot it up and leave it running, it’ll likely run forever. It’s the programs we install that, over time, can corrupt the OS. Based on what I’ve read so far I believe we won’t be installing much, if anything, on Google Chrome OS. In fact I believe we will see many netbooks move into the “cloud-only” realm, where users will store the majority of their data (pictures, music and documents) online.
As of 2006, 99% of Google’s revenue came from “selling ads specifically targeted to a user’s interests.” Google’s informal motto has always been “Don’t be evil.” Let’s hope they stick to that once they are storing, for free, all of our data.
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