Conceptually, that makes sense -- if the apps are rich enough. If the final Chrome OS' app universe six months from now is similar to what's available today, the Chrome OS will be at best a niche product: a simple PC on which Grandma only reads email and IMs, peruses the Web, and shares photos of the family as well as a simple PC that requires no IT administration for office drones who work only in Google Apps. It would also have niche uses as a survey tool by marketers at shows and malls, and (if there's a non-3G version) for bedside data entry in hospitals and clinics.
Done right, the Chrome OS could power the typical family computer and the common business computer for use within the comfort of local, reliable Wi-Fi networks. (It'll need parental controls and remote-wipe capabilities, respectively, though.) That would create an interesting new world, with Chromebooks becoming the first commonly used thin client (the netbook reinvented); iPads and future Android tablets staking out the role of the highly personal, use-it-anywhere "compu-entertainer"; and traditional laptops and PCs finding themselves confined to a role as the new workstation for specialized tasks such as graphics creation. Every home would have a PC or Mac, a Chromebook or two, and a bunch of iPads or Android slates. Most businesses would have a Chromebook on every desk, lots of slates and smartphones for those not confined to a desk, and a just a few workstation PCs for the CFO, in-house developers, and the creative teams.
But in its current incarnation, the cloud-only Chrome OS is no threat to the local-plus-cloud PC nor to the new generation of local-plus-cloud slates such as the iPad.
I'm hoping the folks at Google, despite the apparent slow progress, have been working on a compelling, rich experience that doesn't confine itself to Google's universe of services or to today's primitive style of Web apps. I'll be looking for tangible signs of this during the next several months of Chrome OS' beta development. Stay tuned!
This article, "First look: Chrome OS beta's Achilles' heel is its reliance on the Web," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in cloud computing and mobile technology at InfoWorld.com.
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