Tuesday, May 17, 2011

First thoughts on ChromeOS

Google's funny in that alot of times, it likes to make a grand ol' entrance with fireworks shooting off and lights and such, and then other times, they just kinda try to sneek by without anyone noticing. At least that's how I felt about ChromeOS. I mean, seriously. How long ago was ChromeOS announced? It's not like it's that hard of a concept; it's basically Linux + Chrome - Everything else. How long can it take to actually get moving? I can only speculate that maybe they had complications finding the right hardware

Anyway, when I very first heard of ChromeOS, I had mixed emotions. I was a fan of Google so I was glad they were throwing their hat in the ring against Microsoft and Apple, but after looking at pictures, I really was left with just thinking ".....and?" I mean they are definitely pushing the Cloud, there's no question on that. And I'm definitely not saying that the Cloud or ChromeOS is necessarily a bad thing. How much local storage do tablets have? Do people care? (Rhetorical question: negligible, and no.)

The major thing that I found unappealing is that it is only supposed to be supported on a handful of devices. First of, it's based on Linux. You know, the OS that can run on pretty much anything? Secondly, restricting what an OS can run on (even if just for performance) just screams "Apple" to me, which is not a road I want Google to go down. Or any company, for that matter.

Well, as ChromeOS eventually becomes a reality (if it ever does), more specifics roll in. Apparently a Chromebook will ship for $400-$500. First off, I am a little dissapointed that while Chromebook is vastly different than most Linux distros, the hardware will essentially be the same. A netbook. If you've ever used a netbook, you know that they're great in some areas, but not so much in others. Secondly, the pricetag seems way beyond what anyone is going to pay. As Bryan and Chris mention in the Linux Action Show, you could go out and buy a cheaper netbook with way better specs, install Ubuntu or some other desktop distro (or hell, even a netbook one....or even Android), and get "exponentially" (as Bryan put it) more features at less of a price.

And it's really not so much the price, it's the price with the features. A $400 netbook is not unreasonable; a $400 web browser is. And the fact that it's parent is Linux, which has features galore, is just that much more disappointing. By buying a Chromebook, you're willingly giving up functionality that would have been there for a full Linux distro while retaining the price tag.

If you want to see an amazing counter-example of this, look at the Boxee Box. A while ago, I tried to look around and see if I could make -from scratch- a comparable HTPC that I could install Ubuntu+Boxee on. I couldn't get within $50 of the Boxee Box, much less the size and aesthetics. The point is, yes, the Boxee Box may not have all of the features of a full Linux distro, but it is also a fully optimized little device at a price that can't be beaten. If you try to compare a Chromebook to an Ubuntu netbook, they aren't even comparable in terms of features and are relatively close in price.

One of the reasons I tend to views this as such a bad move is the rise of tablets. It's hard to believe, but back when ChromeOS was first announced, HoneyComb didn't exist, and we were still on the iPad 1. Fast forward and we've got tablets galore, reaching down to $99 and can essentially do all that the Chromebook is claiming to do.

Above all, I think Google needs to do one of two things: (1) It needs to find a way to cut the price down, or (2) it needs to find a niche, because it's really going to fail if it tries to compete as just another netbook. One could say that the "instant-on" is a niche, but really, I've never been concerned with a quick power on for my netbook, and guess what is great for always being in standby? Tablets and phones.

I guess I just don't see the appeal of one myself, and I even heavily depend on Google's services. It's things like this that make me think that Google has maybe got a few gears loose.

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