Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Chromium OS Aha

I fired up Chromium OS from a USB key on my laptop yesterday. Works pretty well for kicks, except no wireless on my ThinkPad. The big Aha moment is when the initial login screen wants your Google ID rather than a local one, and then automatically logs you into your GMail and Google Calendar in the first two browser tabs. It feels like you're logging into your office LAN, except your office is now the internet. And it doesn't belong to your office, and not quite to you either.

It reminds me a little of the first time I used Office 95. Each part of it was reasonably well executed, but what was exciting was that Word, Excel, etc. were clearly meant to work together. At the time, that was a big deal. Chrome OS has that feel too... like the pieces are pulling together. And it does give you a little Microsoft-y chill... Google is selling you Google Calendar exactly the same way Microsoft sells Outlook (and Apple sells iCal). Of course, most of the above are "free," (as in beer) so it is a peculiar type of sale.

For schools that have already decided they're ok with using Google services for public business, Chrome OS devices will be a no brainer. Using the whole stack will really start to draw down the old TCO, in every dimension. I'm ambivalent about becoming too Google-dependent.


Anonymous said...

I tried it out from the site you linked to. If the whole OS is Free software, then dependency will only be a problem if users can't save and change local copies of their online data. I'm still not clear on if that's possible.

Users need to understand the risk in using SaaS though. If privacy and transparent computing is important, a Free system that doesn't use the "cloud" to calculate and store data is what one needs. I suppose the transparency issue can be solved by AGPL-like licensing...but privacy can't be.

What I couldn't understand is that I went to youtube and Flash was already installed. How did I get Flash without accepting a license agreement? And if I'm not agreeing to proprietary add-ons that just come with Chromium, how is it that Chromium is "open source"?

Tom Hoffman said...

Overall, Google's strategies tend to favor interoperability, particularly compared to Microsoft's, which historically were based on lock-in, so yes, overall this isn't super scary.

Regarding Flash on the image, the short answer is that this isn't an authorized image, and technically the guy who posted it shouldn't be redistributing Flash.

My understanding is that Google will not be distributing "Chrome OS" as an installable package -- it will only be available pre-installed. So they'll do whatever they need to do to put Flash on those from the start, I'd imagine.

There will likely be open source versions of "Chromium OS" available on the web, with installers, but you're right, they shouldn't ship with Flash, etc.