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July 2009
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Google wants to run your netbook

11:00 AM Wed, Jul 08, 2009 |
Posted by: Walt Zwirko
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I am a big fan of the Google Chrome browser. It’s fast, it’s reliable, and it provides maximum screen room for Web content.

Chrome hasn’t been a huge success for Google since its introduction last September. I just checked the WFAA.com statistics for this month that show fewer than two percent of visitors to our Web site use it. Some flavor of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer remains the browser of choice for the vast majority of computer users (about 73 percent of our visitors).

But Google has big plans for Chrome. How about a new operating system to compete with Windows?

As outlined this week in the Official Google Blog, the Chrome OS is “an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks,” diminutive computers that have smaller screens than a traditional laptop (7 to 10 inches, typically). Even though netbooks don’t have a DVD drive, sport slower processors and have less storage capacity than their larger cousins, their distinct size advantage has made them the hottest trend in computers.

Google’s use of the term “lightweight” is in contrast to the term often used when describing Microsoft Windows: Bloated.

Most netbooks, limited by design and budget to one gigabyte of memory, are equipped with Microsoft Windows XP, an operating system that was introduced nearly eight years ago. Windows Vista, launched in 2007, requires more resources than netbooks can handle.

So Google is planning for the Chrome OS to do the things most users want to do with a netbook — check e-mail, browse the Internet and use other Internet-based applications without the need to worry about the “legacy” software programs that any Windows-based PC must be able to run.

“We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds,” Google’s announcement said. “The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web.”

It will be at least a year before we get a chance to see what Google Chrome OS can do. By that time, Microsoft will have introduced Windows 7, the successor to Vista, which may be made available in a “lite” version designed for netbooks.

So it remains to be seen whether Google — a name that most everybody associates with Internet searching — can parlay that identity into a product that could pose a genuine challenge to the world’s most popular computer operating system. Others have tried and failed.

Even Apple, with its solid OS X operating system and unparalleled marketing acumen, has been unable to unseat Microsoft as the primary personal computer OS.

Success for Google will depend on two big factors.

Google says Chrome OS will be free to the user, like so many other Google products. But netbooks based on the open-source Linux operating system have not sold well at all; if you see a mini-computer on clearance, chances are it doesn’t run Windows.

So can computer users feel comfortable with what will essentially be a browser-based operating system that has no ability to run all those software applications and games you are most familiar with? You will be able to get work done; Web browsing, e-mail, messaging, documents, spreadsheets and presentation software will all be part of the system.

I tend to think of a netbook as kind of a glorified smartphone (with a more reasonable screen and a keyboard), so if Google’s version can accomplish those basic tasks without that legendary Windows overhead, it could be worthy of our consideration.

We’ll see what happens next year.

E-mail askwalt@wfaa.com




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