Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Google ChromeOS: Pundits miss the point.

Recent coverage of the Google ChromeOS CR-48 makes me think that the tech media is missing the point.

For example, PC Magazine recently posted an article "Six Things Chrome OS needs to go to work" ( http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2374294,00.asp ).  The writer feels that there are only 6 things that the CR-48 will need to be used in an office environment.  It needs:

- To join a windows domain: Why?  How? For network accountability?  To know who is on the corporate network?  You don't have to join a windows network unless you want to have access to Microsoft resources (Exchange, Windows Shares, etc).  The Google ChromeOS netbook has no business with such things.  Loading Microsoft Office for Outlook and Sharepoint is useless, the web interfaces are the only way to access these services.
     The author mentions security as a reason to join a Windows domain...  this is silly as the ChromeOS gets updates like the current Google Chrome web browser.  It will not connect to Microsoft Windows Update or be updated via Microsoft System Security Configuration Manager.. it is a highly customized version of Linux.  In this situation Google knows best.

- A way to browse network shares:  This is a very slight need.  With network shares you could use the netbook to browse printers and pull PDF files off a share.  But a better way is to just email documents or use Google Docs for collaboration.  If network share browsing were to be included it would be a feature not needed by users unless they were logged into a corporate network, the ChromeOS would need to add the Microsoft network protocols, printer applications as well as applications to handle all the files a person might encounter on a network share.  This increases the amount of software needed on an average installation of ChromeOS as well as increase the processor and memory needs, forget what issues it creates for security and licenses to Microsoft to allow Google to use these protocols.  It is a minor feature normal users can live without which by inclusion would impair the netbook.  Sounds like a loose-loose to me.

- Hardwire Ethernet:How many home users will use a hardwire ethernet connection?  Even most commercial businesses run wireless networks.  A wireless network is the most common network now and more so in the future.  Suppose it had a gigabit Ethernet connection (which has bandwidth several times greater than wireless), the extra hardware for this legacy connection and associated costs will be added to every laptop when most users will not ever need it.  The added bandwidth would not be useful as it would only let you connect to other local computers at a high speed as your internet connection will remain slower than your wireless network speed.

- VPN:  I agree with the VPN.  If we are stuck on wireless networks of limited security, a VPN would help secure our data to at least some systems.  The problem?  The netbook is designed to connect to Google for Google apps.  A VPN will not help as your data is still traversign the open internet and is just as likely to be intercepted while carried wirelessly as it would over the internet.

- Another Web browser: What browsers can you run on a specialized Linux install?  Internet Explorer? Nope.  Safari? Nope.  Opera? Nope.  The only candidate other than Google Chrome is Firefox.  I support the idea of installing Firefox but doing that will lower security (and I use Chrome 90% of teh time anyhow).

- Customizable Interface:I agree that an interface should be the way a user wants.  They should be able to customize the heck out of the interface.  That is the reason why I hate Windows 7 Starter edition.  Now this is Google and I am sure they will offer "skins" and other ways to customize the interface.  Even Apple lets you put up a wallpaper.

The point of ChromeOS is to offer a low cost and light (price, hardware, power) netbook.  The idea is to remove as much complexity as possible.  Many of these features are by nature complex and will make the device heavy and expensive.  The ChromeOS CR-48 is not a business computer, don't expect to do your taxes or edit a movie on it.  Expect it to help you connect to the internet and use the web.  The same complaints can be applied to any Apple device, yet 1 in 6 people will be getting an Apple device this Christmas - I'd copy them.

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