Google’s first round of Chromebooks met with mixed reviews and far greater adoption in schools where their easy management and fast boot times made them more popular than with consumers. Google and Samsung announced yesterday that next-generation Chromebooks were rolling out, along with a major release of Chrome OS and new devices call Chromeboxes. All in all, it was a big day for Chrome OS, and yet, as Larry Dignan pointed out, the pricing on Chrome OS devices remains too high for serious consumer or enterprise adoption.
However, in computer-land, three years is forever, and in that period of time, I expect that Chrome OS will be all over the enterprise, consumer spaces, schools, and SMBs. In fact, I expect that it will be ubiquitous in the way that Linux and Java are: we don’t even know we’re using them on our phones, in our TVs, in our DVRs…everywhere. Here’s 5 reasons why.
1. It’s going to be cheap
Yes, Larry’s right. These devices are too expensive right now. But Moore’s Law tells us that this will change. Fast. And Chrome OS doesn’t need the latest hardware to run quite well, particularly now that it can take advantage of GPU acceleration. Sure, the original Atom-based Chromebooks were a bit pokey, but enhancements to the OS itself have taken big steps to address the issue. The latest generation of Chrome OS devices aren’t exactly using quad-core beasts. They’re leveraging commodity hardware, paving the way for serious price drops in the relatively near future.
2. It’s flexible
Have you used the Chrome Web Store? There’s a lot of really useful software just a click away that runs right within the browser. Whether you are using Chrome OS or the Chrome web browser, the experience is the same and the developer ecosystem is pushing hard on the boundaries of what we thought was possible in terms of web applications. The variety of applications already available in the Web Store is impressive, to say the least, just a year and half after its launch.
If Netflix, Facebook, Angry Birds, and Autodesk applications can all run happily in Chrome OS, there won’t be much to differentiate it from a full-blown desktop OS in the months and years to come. Or from an embedded OS. Or a mobile OS. It all depends on the applications OEMs choose to develop, surface, and install for users.
3. Because Chrome OS and Android will merge
As early as 2009, Sergey Brin predicted that Android and Chrome OS would likely draw closer to each other and then merge. The Chrome browser for Android is hinting that this is getting closer to reality, as are various bits of information emerging about Android 5, most of which point to at least the beginnings of unification.
Android is already dominant in mobile devices and runs on everything from televisions to refrigerators to tablets. Chrome has the largest browser marketshare now. When Chrome, Chrome OS, and Android all start looking very much like each other and all dominate their respective markets, it’s not a big stretch to start calling Chrome OS ubiquitous.
4. It’s Google
If Google has proved anything, it’s that they have enough money to keep hammering away at a market until they own it. They proved it with Android on mobile phones. They proved it with their Chrome browser. They proved it with search and related ads. They’ve had their share of missteps and projects like Google+ remain out with the jury. However, if the project is ultimately about growing their core business (namely advertising) and getting ads in front of more people, they’re absolutely dogged. And while their war chest isn’t quite up to Apple’s standards, they can win wars of attrition with just about anyone. Besides, what would you rather see on that connected television? A familiar web browser with snappy app interfaces and a cool Web Store or some kludgy Java interface that doesn’t look a thing like what you use on your desktop, laptop, mobile phone, or tablet to access content?
5. Because the web will be all you need
This is already true for most users. In developing countries, the only personal computing device that many people own is a simple mobile phone with basic web access. Elsewhere, cloud-based applications continue to displace desktop applications and increasing numbers of users spend their days staring at a web browser instead of any particular application. Microsoft’s Office 365 acknowledges the need for at least a hybrid approach to the cloud and most of the interesting software we read about now comes in the form of cloud-based web applications or mobile apps.
Even Adobe, the last reason I bother using a full-blown PC, started shipping Muse (a rich WYSIWYG web development platform) this month and, while not a web application itself, leverages the Air runtime environment to be small, light, and fast.
The next version of Bethesda Software’s massively popular and visually stunning Elder Scrolls series? An MMORPG. No, it won’t be 100% browser-based, but without the web, fans would just be sitting in front of their aging XBOXes. Goodbye game consoles, hello cloud.
This webification movement has taken off in the last 18 months. It isn’t hard to imagine what the next three years will do to the way we think about personal computing. So while Chrome OS got off to a slow start, it’s only a matter of time until Google can take advantage of this inflection point at which we find ourselves.