Google's Chrome operating system is a cool idea: Provide as little functionality in the user device; instead, do the heavy lifting back in the center of the network.
It's not an old idea. Indeed, one of the old chestnuts of networking debates is just where intelligence should be. In this case, the end device is a mobile computer and the repository of most of the smarts - the applications and other features - are accessed over the Web.
The problem is that Chromebooks are not catching on. Perhaps to turn it around, as part of a normal update cycle or both, Google has released new features for the OS. PCWorld suggests that the idea is to make the experience - including the user interface - seem more like a traditional computing device. The changes, the story said, first were available in April through the developer update channel. Now they are part of new machines, such as Samsung's Chromebook Series 5 550 and Chromebox.
The story suggests that the Chrome OS is good for simple tasks such as checking email, but using devices built upon it for more sophisticated tasks quickly leads to problems. InformationWeek's Thomas Claburn does a good job of describing how Google has changed the OS:
Previously, the Chrome browser was locked in place and could not be moved to reveal a desktop below it. Version R19 restores the desktop metaphor by allowing browser windows to be moved and by adding a new app launch and the ability to customize desktop images. It also includes the ability to view Office files, stored locally or on Google Drive. So much for talk that computer users no longer need files.
The effectiveness of the changes begs the bigger question of whether the Chrome OS will succeed. The jury apparently still is out on that one.
On one side is eWeek's Don Reisinger, who lines up 10 reasons that the year-old initiative is failing. They include lack of exposure, failure to update the OS until now, lack of promotion by vendors, lack of availability and failure to articulate why they are a better bet than tablets. He also suggests that their fire has been stolen by ultrabooks, that they suffer simply by not being associated with Apple, that Google's strategy is too long-term and that neither enterprises nor young people are interested.
The other viewpoint is represented by ZDNet's Christopher Dawson. In a post entitled "5 reasons everyone will be using Chrome OS in 3 years," he maintains that success will come because the platform is cheap and flexible, that it will merge with Android, that it has Google in its corner and that everything folks need will be on the Web - making its rationale come true.
It's tempting to say that Reisinger wins because he has twice as many reasons. That's snark, of course. It remains to be seen whether the Chrome operating system can rebound from its shaky freshman year, simply due to the fact that it's closely associated with Google, which means that it is far too early to count it out.