Operating Systems

Tweaks to Chrome OS Stir Up Existential Questions

A new version of Google’s personal computer operating system, Chrome OS, was released for developers Tuesday. It adds design elements of more conventional offerings like Windows and OS X.

The new Aura interface includes a home screen with a task bar, or shelf, from which you can launch applications. Previous versions required all activity to take place within a browser-like window.

The OS also supports multiple windows that can be minimized and maximized, as well as resized.

In addition, tabs within Chrome OS windows can be “torn” from there to the desktop to create a new windows, a feature found in Google’s Chrome browser too.

Six-Week Refreshes

“Our vision with Chrome OS is to provide a user experience that gets better every six weeks,” Google spokesperson Jessica Kositz explained to TechNewsWorld.

“One of the areas we’ve thought a lot about is the desktop and windows manager environment, and creating a simpler, more intuitive experience for our users,” she continued. “As the latest version of Chrome OS is released into the beta channel, our users will begin to see some of these changes.”

When Google introduced Chrome OS in 2009, its design goal was to make an operating system that blurred the lines between operating system and Web browser. This latest version of the OS appears to be retreating from that goal.

That’s not a bad thing, however, asserted Chrome user David Carns, who is also marketing and sales director of @Legal Discovery and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

Capitulation to Windows?

“All they’ve done is make the home screen window look like a regular OS,” he told TechNewsWorld. “All the rest of the features are pretty much exactly the same.”

“There’s never been a home screen, a desktop screen that you could get to,” he added. “You were always in a browser window of one sort or another.”

Others, though, cast the latest revisions in a more radical light. “They’re blowing Chrome up,” ITIC principal analyst Laura DiDio told TechNewsWorld. “It looks like a traditional operating system now.”

“With this new release, with Aura and the shelf/task bar, Google is adopting a ‘if I can’t beat’em, join’em’ strategy,” she added.

An Uninteresting OS?

It remains to be seen, however, whether emulating traditional operating systems like Windows and OS X will improve Chrome’s fortunes in the OS market.

“We don’t get a lot of our clients asking about Chrome OS or interested in Chrome OS,” Gartner Research Vice President Michael Silver told TechNewsWorld.

“There’s a lot of questions where it sits in the market, if at all,” he added.

Linux desktops have improved over the years but they haven’t gained any traction, he continued. Chrome OS is built on a Linux kernel.

“The biggest reason they haven’t been adopted is that organizations still run a lot of Windows applications,” he said.

He estimated that half the applications run by a typical organization are Windows applications. “Unless you get rid of all your applications and you’re ready to go Windows-free and browser-based, Chrome OS is not all that interesting,” he explained.

Dim Prospects

Google has placed itself in a bind because, whether it likes it or not, Chrome OS is pitted in the market against its very successful mobile operating system Android, Silver maintained.

“They have these two products that have come out of different areas of the company and they have a lot of overlap and one of them probably isn’t needed,” he said. “Chrome OS is superfluous.”

Chrome OS is an anomaly in the market, according to Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst with the Enderle Group .

“The market has largely rejected Chrome OS,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It isn’t picking up much interest with OEMs and certainly not very much in the consumer base.”

“It’s seen as a crippled product and as a result, people can’t figure out how to use it,” he asserted.

“Right now, it’s all but dead,” he declared. “The only people who don’t realize it are the folks at Google.”

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