Sunday, November 22, 2009

A response to '12 reasons Chrome OS will fail'

by Cylinsier

A couple days ago, I read a blog post called 12 reasons Chrome OS will fail, by Patricio Robles on This is a point by point response to those reasons and why I disagree with them. If you don't know, Chrome OS is Google's foray into the operating system market. It is geared primarily towards netbooks as a low hassle no frills OS for those that need quick access to the web and not much else.

I will quote each point before responding to it.

The web matters, but so does the desktop. With Chrome OS, Google is betting that desktop apps don't matter to the average consumer. Is that a good bet? Probably not. While there's no doubt that you can do a lot on the web today, but that doesn't mean the desktop is dead. From accounting programs (e.g. Quickbooks) to P2P software (e.g. Limewire) to the desktop software that comes bundled with devices like digital cameras, there are plenty of desktop applications that average consumers still use, or might want to use.

The reason I don't buy this argument is actually twofold. First, Robles' argument here depends on the notion that someone would buy a netbook as a notebook or desktop replacement, but considering how low the prices are getting and the obvious direction of that market, its pretty clear the netbooks are being handled as peripheral devices closer to PDAs and smartphones than actual computers right now. Second, part of Chrome OS is building a large number of applications into the web environment that were previously desktop oriented; Google documents for example. Microsoft is even catching onto this trend, something I might address in a future blog post. But for the most part, people who want a netbook aren't being duped into losing their desktop apps, they just aren't looking for them in this package.

Less isn't more. Even if 95% of what you do is on the web and Chrome OS seems like a viable choice, why buy a machine that can do less than the machine you have today? Unless the machines packing Chrome OS are significantly cheaper, the average consumers is not going to pay approximately the same amount of money for less functionality and flexibility.

I more or less answered this above; you buy this machine to work with your other gear, not in place of it. And the price is going to be pretty cheap. You can already get XP ready netbooks in the $400 dollar area; imagine how much you save with Chrome OS (which is free).

Google's focus on netbooks is short-sighted. Netbooks may not be dying, but the ultrathin is fast becoming the new netbook. Some low-end ultrathins sporting more powerful ultra-low voltage (ULV) CPUs from Intel and AMD cost as much as high-end netbooks with much less powerful processors. The question for a consumer is why you'd want to run an OS clearly designed for yesterday's netbooks on your new, more powerful ultrathin. The obvious answer: you don't.

This again overlooks the difference between notebooks and netbooks. The major draw of a netbook running Chrome is going to be the get-up-and-go speed of starting it up. Since Chrome will run off a SSD drive and is essentially a browser turned OS, you're literally talking about startup times in the seconds. What Robles is doing wrong here is comparing netbooks and notebooks as though they are competing products; they aren't.

Consumers are comfortable with Windows. Love it or hate it, Windows is in a long-term relationship with consumers. Getting them to cozy up to a different kind of OS is a huge marketing challenge. As is getting them to keep their Chrome OS machine once they realize that it's a Chrome OS machine. As an example, consider MSI, which has in the past attributed the high return rates for some of its netbooks to the fact that they were running Linux.

I don't know if I buy this. Netbooks running Windows were XP until recently. But didn't we just spend three years talking about how much we don't like Vista? How many people are already ripe to try something new? If that isn't enough proof for you, consider that Windows also had a significant head start in the mobile market with Windows CE. Where'd that get them? The most popular mobile OS is the iPhone, followed by Palm and, yes, Google Android is quickly gaining attention. Windows Mobile is lingering near the bottom. Apple seems to think this might be a talking point as well; seen all those "switch to Mac instead of Windows 7" adverts? They might be onto something.

Windows 7 rocks. Microsoft's new OS has received a lot of positive press, and as someone who is running it on a new ultrathin ULV laptop, I can say that it's a very decent OS and is much, much faster than Vista. In fact, if I owned an underpowered netbook I suspect I still might be able to get away with running Windows 7 on it. As a fun comparison, consider that (according to Net Applications) Windows 7 has already achieved greater marketshare in the OS market since mid-September than the Chrome browser has achieved in the browser market since December 2008. Yet Google has promoted the Chrome browser on some of the most trafficked properties in the world, including on its homepage. That shows the significant mountain Google faces in penetrating the OS market.

This is all fine and dandy as a talking point, but how are you going to install Windows 7 on that netbook without a DVD drive? Oh, you can't. You just have to settle with Windows 7 Starter pre-packaged on a new netbook, which will cost about $200 bucks more than Chrome by the way. Have you used 7 starter? Its nothing like the 7 you're running on your notebook. And I don't see any reason to draw correlation between browser performance and OS performance; they are very different animals.

Google doesn't have a monopoly on web apps. Chrome OS is a viable option if you can use web apps exclusively. But so is Windows, Mac OS X, Linux or any other operating system that runs a web browser. After all, you can run web apps -- including Google's -- in just about every modern browser. In other words, when you get right down to it Google isn't really offering you anything that you don't already have.

I disagree; Google is offering you a netbook that boots up faster than any other on the market, gives you quick and easy access to the internet, is light and portable, and costs several hundred dollars less than the Windows version.

Support? What support? If you're an average consumer and something goes wrong with your Chrome OS netbook, who are you going to call? Certainly not Google. And without massive usage, it's hard to see local computer techs (or services like the Geek Squad) jumping over themselves to support Chrome OS users.

This is nit-picky. When has anything Google has ever done not received substantial support from their staff AND the thousands of dedicated members of Google's community? Trust me, if something goes wrong, you will be able to Google it and get your answer in no time; who cares if its the traditional customer support phone call or an internet search? At least with the latter, you don't get some one in Asia you can't understand trying to help you with your problem.

HTML5 isn't here. Google's belief in web apps is inherently based on its belief in HTML5. There's only one problem: HTML5 isn't here and it will almost certainly be years before developers really start looking at it seriously.

So is that a death sentence? Internet Explorer 9 is already boasting major HTML5 support, and Mozilla has dropped hints about it too. Safari can't be far behind. HTML5 may still be a ways off, but Google isn't the only entity already hedging bets with it.

The interesting features are technical. Google is bringing some interesting things to the table with Chrome OS but most of them are subtle details that appeal to techies. The problem is that you can't really sell technical details to the layman with enough specificity to be meaningful.

This is really just a matter of opinion. I think a lot of the things Google does appeal to technophiles more than the common user, but they're still popular. There's a substantial market out there for Chrome even if it is only for the tech savvy.

Only 'referenced hardware' will be supported. Chrome OS may be open source but it will only run on hardware Google chooses to support. There are obvious, logical reasons for this but make no doubt about it: this is a huge barrier to adoption and in my opinion will even make it difficult for Chrome OS to compete with Linux. That's bad news for Chrome OS, since we know how well the Ubuntus of the world have fared.

This hasn't stopped Mac OSX.

The Chrome browser hasn't taken the world by storm. While one could debate how respectable Google's results with the Chrome browser are, one can't debate a simple fact: Chrome is clearly not taking over the world. Which begs the question: if consumers aren't flocking to download Chrome the browser for free, why will they flock to pay for machines with Chrome OS when the key selling points are largely the same? Answer: they won't.

Already addressed above, but I'll repeat; I see no reason to draw a correlation between browser performance and OS performance. And this argument is posited as if consumers looking for netbooks have competitive options; price-wise, they won't. The reason someone will buy a Chrome OS netbook is because they're going to spend the money on the netbook anyway and they will spend less on this one. If anything, Chrome browser is a boon for Google, giving users something akin to a free trial of the OS. And say what you will about Chrome browser, but its easy to use.

At the end of the day, Chrome OS is the Chrome browser. When you take a few steps back, all Google has really done is built an 'OS' to run a web browser. Not a big deal.

Still separating the hardware from the software when that is not the point. Chrome OS sells on the fact that there is a market for netbooks and they are already buying; the question is simply which one they are buying. Chrome offers faster startup and simple internet access. Most people who use netbooks don't want to replace their power machine. Google recognizes this and sees that you're not going to want to be doing a lot of desktop work on such a small platform anyway, but if you are swinging by Panera and need to send a quick email or Google map your drive to a friend's house, you can be on that wifi in seconds. That's a huge advantage over other netbooks who still boot to OS with all the extraneous desktop steps despite the SSD. That's why Google has a chance to hit a home run with Chrome OS.

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Ellipses said...

I think the cost savings in a Chrome OS machine would be profound relative to the performance...

You are going to have an SSD hard drive... but what size? All you are running is the chrome browser and room for extensions and whatnot, right? SSD drives are expensive, but they are coming down in price... but it's not like you need 250gb of storage to run a web browser. Couldn't you run this off of the equivalent of a flash card?

Beyond that, what ports are going to need? You don't have a desktop! No USBs, no firewire, no smart card reader, no optical drive... no one is going to use this for gaming or as a desktop replacement, so get rid of the component outs, the hdmi, the vga/dvi... all you are going to have, port-wise, is an ethernet port (some people are old school) and a jack for your power adapter.

On the hardware side, you will have a processor (doesn't have to be fast...) a minimal amount of ram, a tiny little SSD, 802.11n wifi, 4g or 3g cellular access... and bluetooth for a mouse/cell pairing.

Not only do you save a bundle on a free OS, but your hardware requirements can be almost non-existent while STILL maintaining an attractive and functional machine. Imagine a Chromed out metal chassis Chrome OS laptop. The most expensive part of it would be the metal for the actual body of the machine!

It would make that green and white "laptop for every child" thing look like a TI-86 with antennae... Honestly, how would this thing cost more than 100 bucks?

Cylinsier said...

It wouldn't. I'm guessing they'll be around the $100 to $150 dollar price range. The SSD will be in the 16 GB range tops, maybe even as small as 8. Everything will be stored in your online Google account or in the cloud. Yes, you wouldn't need all those ports or hardware to run heavy apps, but the truth is if Google rolls out a cloud any time in the next couple of years, you could theoretically run killer apps on this machine via that method. At which point the Chrome market explodes. Of course, that's all conjecture at this point.

Ellipses said...

Even at 8gb, what are you going to use that space for?

My iphone is 8gb... I don't know how much is taken up by apps... but it's a tiny little percentage of the total.

My wife's is 16gb... Maybe I will google the sum total of gigabytes worth of apps in the app store... I just don't see using more space than what is required for the browser and any crap you tack onto the browser... and I don't know how much space cloud-accessing apps take up (gotta be minimal)-- and I would assume that a fair percentage of THOSE would be browser based, too

I'm gaga for google, now. Thanks.

Oh, Roku just blew the fuck up with new channels. Like Numa Numa and Jason Mraz, I was way ahead of that one :-)

Wesley said...

Cy...why not post your argument on the econsultancy site?

Ellipses said...

Check this out: