Opinion: Will Google’s Chrome OS be dead on arrival?

Google's Chrome OS could already be out of date.

Google\’s Chrome OS could already be out of date.

Chrome OS is impressive in many ways but it may be built for a market that has already moved on, says Adam Maguire.

Late last week Google gave the world its first taste of Chrome OS – the light-weight operating system that marks a significant shift in the way computer platforms are designed.

The appeal of Chrome OS is that it is largely cloud-based so no user programmes or files are stored on the computer itself – everything is done through what is effectively a web browser.

There are plenty of benefits to this set-up, the seven second boot time being one. However a lot of what are its other ‘unique selling points’ might be very interesting to those who bought netbooks in 2007 but not to those who bought in 2009.

The original netbooks – namely Asus’ early EeePCs – were low-spec. They had small SSDs, low RAM and little real functionality other than web browsing and document editing. They were weak by anyone’s standards but that was the point. They were designed to be portable, light-weight tools for easy internet access.

Just like Chrome OS.

Chrome OS is designed, as Google has said itself, to get people online as quickly and easily as possible. It not only works best on SSD-based netbooks, it currently only works on SSD-based netbooks. As it has no applications it is extremely small too, making it perfect for machines with small – and therefore cheaper – flash memory drives. As it is built to run everything through a web-browser it is far less demanding and so requires less RAM.

Since late 2007 and the dawn of the netbooks, however, the market has moved on. The netbook has now found a role as the business-person’s travel laptop, the teen’s first computer and the student’s college companion.

As a result what it needs to do has changed – in addition to web-browsing and basic text editing it also needs to store media, run multiple programmes and be comfortable to use for extended typing.

So the hard-drive got bigger. The RAM and processor got a speed boost. The 7″ screen and matching keyboard grew in size.

Granted the price has grown too and a back-to-basics netbook running Chrome OS could easily come in a lot cheaper than the standard WinXP/7-based units in shops today.

So the question is how many people are actually still buying netbooks because they’re cheap?

Few, it can be assumed. People who want a cheap computer – laptop or desktop – can do a whole lot better than a netbook for the money they may spend on one.

For example there is an €80 price difference between this Best Value 10.1″ netbook and this Emachines EMD620 laptop on Dabs.ie but the latter has a far better spec. It would not make sense for anyone to buy a netbook for its value as a standard computer any more and no-one does.

Instead it is portability and convenience that gives value to the netbook market, with people willing to pay extra for a PC that has all the best bits in an unobtrusive package.

In short it seems as though Google’s Chrome OS has been designed for a netbook that no longer exists and it is hard to see the tide being reversed to cater for it.

Sure, netbooks will be made specifically for Chrome OS and they should end up cheap too but with modern netbook users having the luxury of everything that a big hard-drive and relatively reasonably bit of power can do it is hard to see them get too interested.

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