Google has some way to go to prove that Chrome OS, and its Web app store, can compete with existing personal computers and software, says Michael Gartenberg, a research director at Gartner specializing in consumer technology. “The store today feels unfinished and even a little confused—some things appear to be just bookmarks while others are full apps.”
Google hopes Web developers will soon change that, and also looks to be investigating ways to offer access to existing desktop apps on Chrome OS, says Glenn Weinstein, CTO of cloud app provider Appirio, whose employees will soon start using Cr-48s for work. Apporio notes that Citrix has developed a Chrome OS version of its widely-used software that allows desktop applications to be hosted on a server for access through a Web browser. “I think we’ll see other major application providers appear that have worked with Google on this,” he adds.
Whether this adds up to a product that can succeed will be easier to judge after Google’s hardware partners, Acer and Samsung, unveil their devices, and pricing for those devices, next year, says Gartenberg. He expects the hardware to be low cost, but points out that Google’s decision to bundle Chrome notebooks with 100 megabytes of “free” 3G data every month from Verizon for two years will work against that. “I’m paying for that data one way or the other,” says Gartenberg.
With a reliance on constant connectivity and no hard drive, a Chrome notebook could be described as an overgrown smart phone with a keyboard. That raises the question of whether Chrome OS could appear on phones and tablet devices, competing with Google’s other operating system, Android, which is developed by a separate team within the company.
“As a core experience Chrome OS lends itself to a number of form factors,” acknowledges Pichai, “although the work needed to offer it on a touch interface is not done yet.” For now Chrome OS is about introducing users and developers to a completely different kind of computing, he says. “It’s not good to have just one model.”
This choice could confuse some consumers, says Gartenberg, and that could hinder efforts to sell a radical new product. “Eventually they will have to figure out why these two things need to both exist and tell a cohesive story,” he says.
Google’s vision has momentum, though. Earlier this year a survey of over 900 tech experts on the Internet’s future by the Pew Internet Project found that a clear majority thought cloud computing will become more dominant than the desktop in the next decade. “Several respondents to the survey mentioned the Chrome OS as an example, and they saw such a method as being a primary interface to nearly all small, smart devices,” says Janna Anderson at Elon University, who coordinated the report.