Everything is moving into the cloud and so is the operating system. Previously Microsoft released the Windows Azure Platform, also a number of smaller players such as Good OS (gOS), EyeOS and Glide have hit the market. Google is however surprisingly late to the game with the hyped release of Chromium better known as Google Chrome OS. Why the name confusion? Chromium is the open-source project connected to Google Chrome and Chrome OS.
We downloaded the open-source version of Google Chrome OS, built it and ran it on a netbook using a USB-drive. It was also tested in a virtualized environment (VMWare). The version of Chromium we tested was 188.8.131.52, it is not a finished product so this review is more of a hint of things to come than a complete overview of a finished product.
Building the Google Chrome OS source-code is not easy for everyone; there are a couple of images of the system floating around on the net usually made for USB-drives or a virtualized environment. For example you can download Google Chrome OS image files from: or.
Chrome OS is actually built on the Linux kernel but with its own windowing system. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why Google managed to get this product released and working avoiding the hurdle of device drivers that other operating system developers have to worry about.
Starting Chrome OS is very fast, it only took about 10 seconds to bring up the login screen. When launching it on a netbook problems started directly when trying to login, since the Wi-Fi networks password hadn’t been initialized it could not login using my Google account. Instead I had to connect it to a cable network, and then it worked fine. The login sequence is probably something Google will have to work on, if I had been on the road trying to connect to a secured Wi-Fi network it wouldn’t have worked.
When logging in to Chrome OS you are greeted with a Google Chrome web-browser window launching Google or your Gmail account. There is also a tab in the upper left corner containing shortcuts to different Google and Internet-services, such as Google Docs, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, Facebook etc. Very few of the applications in Google Chrome OS is native, most of them are run in a browser window. The calculator is the only app that runs from within Chromium and pop-ups in the lower right corner of the screen. Most cloud applications worked like a charm and they were fast to use. We used Google Wave, Zoho among others without any real issues.
The user interface is very plain and light-weight compared to Windows 7, MAC OSx or Linux. If you compare it to other cloud OS interfaces it still is plain, both gOS and Glide look much better. To enhance the UI there are a number of available themes for Google Chrome and also the Google Chrome OS. In the upper right part of the screen there is a battery indicator, a switch for turning on and off Wi-Fi and Ethernet and an icon for controlling the rest of the OS. The menu-options are a mixture of the ones available in the Chrome browser and operating system specific options available in Chromium.
If you compare Chrome OS to other operating systems on the market it is minimalistic and not very flexible. Google’s intent is that Chrome OS is for netbooks, but there are plenty of situations using a netbook without any Internet access, for example on the plane. Chrome OS also does not give you access to the inner workings of the computer, there are not that many settings that you can change by default. Comparing Chrome OS So what Chrome OS got going for it is that it is minimalistic but it is also what works against it. Linux is so far a much better free alternative for netbooks than Google Chrome OS is. Google have partnered up with netbook manufacturer and we will probably see Google Chrome OS netbooks during 2010.
Another interesting user case for Chrome OS could be in a corporate environment, clients would not need any programs installed and the need for extensive administration would be gone. The problem is that Chrome OS cannot be used in a local network (EyeOS have this capability); it has to connect to Google. There will probably be extensions to get this capability though.
Of course the operating systems of the future will be more connected to the cloud than they currently are, however I think it will be highly dependent on the software and services available in the cloud. Most of the services available work quite well on netbooks (hence the targeting by Google), such as Google Docs and Zoho. But heavier applications and games still remain on the desktop, for example there are many photo-editing apps in the cloud but none with the advanced features seen in Photoshop. Graphics applications such as Inkscape and Google SketchUp also still remain on the desktop, and probably will for some time. However for average novice users requiring a word processor and the occasional web-surfing Google Chrome OS might be it, especially in a year or two when it has been more developed.