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December 09, 2010

Google Chrome OS and Hardware: A little Coal in the Stocking

Billed to be the next great OS/hardware combination, Google (News - Alert) Chrome and Chrome-books (hardware tailored to run the Chrome OS) were rumored/said to be available just in time for the holiday shopping season. Instead, Google is shipping out developer/media-review hardware this week with the party line saying hardware for the rest of us will be out next year.

It feels like a little coal in the stocking. Maybe it's time to rethink what we've all been thinking about Chrome.

Google pitched the Chrome OS and hardware as being “the Next Big Thing,” a lightweight device running a thin client (gee, where have we heard that before? Sun? X-terminals?) and all apps and storage will stay in the (Google-managed and run) cloud. Chrome will be fast-booting in about 10 seconds and come out of sleep "instantly,” security-hardened, and have long battery life, said the company.

However, Google needs more time to polish the software and get the bugs out, so the company has kicked the can down the road for the official mass-market release while it seeds the media, developers and a select number of mere mortals with freebie hardware in the form of the Cr-48 notebook -- free hardware for participating in the beta.

Lucky winners getting the freebie will receive a 3.8-pound "notebook" without a disk drive -- flash only -- with built-in WiFi (News - Alert) and Verizon 3G service, a webcam, 12-inch LCD display, and a "full-size" keyboard that ditches the CAPS LOCK key and function keys; in place of CAPS LOCK, you get a dedicated search button. Google said you should get over eight hours of active usage and a week of standby-time out of the battery. Users will get 100 Mb of free data from Verizon Wireless, then have to pay for more if they need it.

For real, commercial-grade/ready for prime-time hardware, Acer (News - Alert) and Samsung have committed to ship consumer hardware sometime in 2011. Part of the delay may be because of reports and reviews saying the Cr-48 runs Adobe Flash s-l-o-w-l-y; good bet the Chrome-books will have a faster Intel (News - Alert) processor -- don't use the word "netbook" because Google doesn't like the associations with smaller (under 11 inches) screens and keyboards.

B-U-T the hot word these days is "tablets" and more specifically tablets running Android (News - Alert). When you start thinking about thin client applications for businesses and in the home, an Android tablet seems to be a winner.

If you shift the model to somewhere where a lot of keyboard usage/fast touch-typing is required, then the Chrome OS notebook ends up being compared with netbooks for battery wife usability and both notebooks and netbooks for flexibility of use.

 Do you go with the Chrome OS notebook and assume you have 100 percent connectivity via WiFi or 3G? Or select to a netbook or notebook, based upon your need for battery life and portability? It's hard to say what the "right" answer is now, because we don't know what the final Chrome OS hardware will perform or cost relative to netbook/notebook solutions, but my gut feel is that most people will stick with "traditional" Windows+hard drive solutions because of the flexibility for storing data locally and a wider variety of options for that stored data. For example, there's not really a good solution for iTunes in the cloud.

Businesses and institutions would appreciate a high-speed, highly-secure Web-based solution in many respective environments. I can almost see "Point of Sale" terminal down the road, but this begs the question as to how Google makes money... except that Google already processes credit card transactions, so maybe this isn't a big reach after all.


Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf
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