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Thin Client
December 14, 2010 11:49 PM   Subscribe

Google's pilot program for Chrome OS is well underway, with the new operating system being distributed on free Cr-48 Notebooks, to generally favourable impressions. Chrome OS relies heavily on cloud computing, where software and data live on servers and are accessed by a client, and product manager Caesar Sengupta going as far as to say they will have failed if cloud computing does not become the norm. Not everyone is happy about that thought through, with Richard Stallman warning it may be a trap. Like the Cr-48s attractive design but not so sure about ChromeOS? You could always sneak Ubuntu onto it.
posted by Artw (96 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why two seperate OSes? They have both Android and Chrome OS... and Android has it's own browser while Chrome OS can't run Android apps. Seems kind of weird.
posted by delmoi at 12:00 AM on December 15, 2010


Why two OSes? I don't know, but Apple and Microsoft both use one OS for regular computers and another for phones.
posted by zippy at 12:12 AM on December 15, 2010


Google CEO: Android Is for Touch, Chrome OS Is for Keyboards
posted by Artw at 12:17 AM on December 15, 2010


If you want to try chrome os on your computer, download and start chrome browser and then press f11.

/obligatory
posted by seanyboy at 12:18 AM on December 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


The first time I ever heard of cloud computing was in Greg Egan's novel "Permutation City." Back then he saw it as a free market kind of thing where you could sell or lend idle processor time to other people to help them with their tasks. But the way its actually developing, with a thin client that just connects to the Internet and everything important taking place in a cloud of Googly machines you never see or touch... it just seems weird. Maybe this will be great for some people, but it's too strange for me.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:38 AM on December 15, 2010


Or to sum it up more succinctly: distributed computing > cloud computing
posted by Kevin Street at 12:41 AM on December 15, 2010


ALSO, NO CAPS LOCK KEY.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:48 AM on December 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Why two OSes? Practicality and profit, man.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 12:49 AM on December 15, 2010


I'm amused that we've come full circle. Cloud computing is basically the next generation of timesharing.
posted by spiderskull at 1:17 AM on December 15, 2010 [8 favorites]


This post is why I still love it here, even after all these years.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 1:21 AM on December 15, 2010


The fundamental problem with these systems is that they make a great assumption about the applications people use. There is the assumption that "these days people need a browser, some way to play videos, some way to listen to music, something to type documents...tada! We can do it all in HTML5!". I would love one of these things, in a way. But then I remember that I need to use GIS software for my work. I need to use R. And I like to make music, as well as just listen to it.

I'd like to meet someone who's every computing need can be met by a "cloud" operating system like this, because I'm genuinely interested in how they use computers.
posted by Jimbob at 1:29 AM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's pretty much my thinking Jimbob. I can't help but think that if you'd be happy with this you've probably already bought one of those ipad thingies the kids are talking about.

Of course they could just be ahead of the curve, and we'll see richer and richer web apps. Hell, it would probably do 95% of what I needed in a laptop (assuming I also had a desktop at home/work) but the 5% would drive me nuts.
posted by markr at 1:42 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Two years ago Stallman, a computing veteran who is a strong advocate of free software via his Free Software Foundation, warned that making extensive use of cloud computing was "worse than stupidity" because it meant a loss of control of data.

An interesting point of view. For years RMS has been one of the loudest advocates for openness with regard to source code and freedom with regard to how that source code is used.

Why should software be free?

The question at hand is, “Should development of software be linked with having owners to restrict the use of it?”

Restrictions on the distribution and modification of the program cannot facilitate its use. They can only interfere. So the effect can only be negative. But how much? And what kind?

And so forth.

What is the difference between personal "data" and a program I personally wrote? Why should I have control over one, but not the other? They are both just sequences of binary information stored in a computer memory somewhere.

"Loss of control of data" just seems to be the logical conclusion of a world of free and unfettered distribution and use of digital information.
posted by three blind mice at 1:51 AM on December 15, 2010


What is the difference between personal "data" and a program I personally wrote? Why should I have control over one, but not the other? They are both just sequences of binary information stored in a computer memory somewhere.

I don't the situations are analogous.

For software under an open source licence, sure everyone can do what they want, but they have to make their changes available to everyone else. How you use your software doesn't have to be affected in any way by how other people use your software.

For your personal data, some uses it to do something in your life that you didn't necessarily want to do, like sign up for McDonald's spam, and there's a direct impact on you. You only. No-one else.
posted by awfurby at 2:00 AM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


The first time I ever heard of cloud computing was when computers were first invented and you'd hook a bunch of dumb terminals to a single server.

There was a time when people said things like "I think there is a world market for about five computers." That was a wise (or should that be wyse) thing to say at the time, and then we laughed at it for about 30 years, and now I'm starting to think that actually it was incredibly prescient.
posted by seanyboy at 2:02 AM on December 15, 2010 [8 favorites]


Jimbob, her name is Sophia, she's 10, and she's been using it to check Gmail, edit her Amazon christmas list and look up movie times. I believe there may have been some youtube videos watched as well, but I can't confirm that. She even let me borrow it for a day and I found it covers about 80% of my work and play needs, and that's with it still in beta; once the bluetooth and ssh are working I'm pretty sure it will take the place of my old Powerbook on the couch/bus.
posted by bizwank at 2:03 AM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


What is the difference between personal "data" and a program I personally wrote?

The question you should be asking is "What's the difference between binary information I control and binary information someone else controls."

That program you wrote may be open source, but you can change it / edit it and store it in a place that some other entity has no control over. So, For example: If the company that provided the program goes belly up, you can still use it. This is not the same as cloud stored information.
posted by seanyboy at 2:06 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you want to try chrome os on your computer, download and start chrome browser and then press f11.

I know this was a joke, but it hits on a major annoyance with the Chrome browser- no tab bar/address bar/etc when in fullscreen mode. WTF.
posted by nzero at 2:08 AM on December 15, 2010


There was a time when people said things like "I think there is a world market for about five computers." That was a wise (or should that be wyse) thing to say at the time, and then we laughed at it for about 30 years, and now I'm starting to think that actually it was incredibly prescient.

This. Isaac Asimov anyone?
posted by nzero at 2:09 AM on December 15, 2010


Never mind email and calendar, cloud computing is changing the field of computer science. I remember when making things faster meant coding in assembler or using threads. Now, you write it as a mapreduce and run it on a cluster and you have all the cloud computing advantages: scalability, etc.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:56 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


If RMS hates it already, it must be useful. Good going, Chrome OS team!
posted by bokane at 3:09 AM on December 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Jimbob, her name is Sophia, she's 10...I'm pretty sure it will take the place of my old Powerbook on the couch/bus.

So you're saying it's a toy for kids and "entertainment", really, not computing.

Just to keep on my rant; I can't imagine getting any productive output from Google Docs. It doesn't have a bibliography manager. Loads and loads of people out there need bibliography managers. I don't care if it's EndNote or Mendeley or even BibTex, it's impossible for me to do 95% of what I do in a word processor unless it has one of them. You'd think Google would integrate Google Scholar into it or something, and maybe they will, but as it stands, Google Docs is just about useful enough to write a shopping list in, for me.

And Google Docs doesn't have styles. How many years have other word processors been dragged kicking and screaming into semantic, hierarchical styles, and with Word 2007 onwards, average users have just about started to use them. But what do we get in Google Docs? A font drop-down menu. Circa 1993.

I will be extremely impressed if this turned out to be anything more than a proof-of-concept toy.
posted by Jimbob at 3:12 AM on December 15, 2010 [6 favorites]


Oh man what.
There’s no File Explorer or Finder equivalent, it seems.

If you push Ctrl-O, you’ll get a little window that allows you navigate through some files. You can also get to files any time you use a web app that opens up a dialog box.

There’s no way from it to navigate through the full file structure of the computer.

We really don’t want users to ever think about the file structure of the machine. Think of this as a download shelf where you put things temporarily until sending up to the cloud.

...

I’m still in cases where I might want a local music file on my computer, so I can store it as a local file on my phone.

I have 80GB of music and went through this myself. But sometime back, I discovered Rhapsody and MOG. MOG is a $5 subscription per month, and it’s so convenient. I have it on my phone, on my computer. There’s a nice version of the app in the Chrome Web Store. If you try out Rhapsody, it lets you cache music offline or on an iPhone.
So, basically, this is like all the functionality of a smartphone, only cased within a laptop designed by 2002. I suppose I could see some use for this as a work machine, but then, why not just get a netbook with a similar basic, out-of-the-box functionality, like Ubuntu for Netbooks, that at least doesn't lock you out of the file system of the machine, lets you do everything you'd normally want to do offline, and be able to get apps for free?

Here I'm talking just about an on-the-go, bare-bones, work-related OS, which is what it seems Chrome OS is aiming for (at this stage anyway). Sengupta says he wants this OS to become the way people do computing, in the long term, and sure, there's a proven market for operating systems for people who aren't interested in really knowing their machines, and are willing to take whatever apps the company store makes available to them. But at this stage, as an OS for a work comp, there are already OSs that do the same thing, only better. On the other hand, the Chrome browser started out pretty shakey, and is now my default browser, so who knows.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:18 AM on December 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


There was a time when people said things like "I think there is a world market for about five computers."

That's an urban legend.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:24 AM on December 15, 2010


So you're saying it's a toy for kids and "entertainment", really, not computing.

So... pretty much every netbook I've seen in the wild then?

A thin netbook is going to do a different thing to a high spec laptop, which will be different to a desktop, which will be different to a server.

If you want a machine that does everything, you aren't going to buy one of these. But equally, you're not going to take your tower with dual 24" monitors on the bus.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 3:29 AM on December 15, 2010


We're at an interesting point in computing. Things like the Chrome OS and the iPad are all about the consumption of content, rather than its creation. Obviously, you can create content on those things, but as people here are observing, it's hardly ideal.

I think people here (myself included) are especially frustrated by the Cr-48 because people here tend to be content creators. I suspect the vast majority of Chrome OS users won't even notice their machine lacks a text editor or a decent word processor or an image editor.
posted by puckupdate at 3:47 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I look forward to seeing this in New Zealand in 2028 when we get the internet. I've got two online syncboxes, one for work, one for school, and I've got to sync late at night so other people in my house can do other bandwidth intensive things like looking at facebook or using google. I've got a new plan which is slightly better but I still habitually avoid YouTube links. It's probably not as bad as I'm making out, but cloud computing sounds slow and expensive to me.
posted by doublehappy at 4:17 AM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


EEE I came home last night and one of these was at my doorstep! I am posting this comment from a shiny matte brand new CR-48.
posted by azarbayejani at 4:29 AM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just to keep on my rant; I can't imagine getting any productive output from Google Docs. It doesn't have a bibliography manager. Loads and loads of people out there need bibliography managers. I don't care if it's EndNote or Mendeley or even BibTex, it's impossible for me to do 95% of what I do in a word processor unless it has one of them. You'd think Google would integrate Google Scholar into it or something, and maybe they will, but as it stands, Google Docs is just about useful enough to write a shopping list in, for me.

I'm happy for you and all those people (and I'm going to let you finish) but you know what? Most people don't need EndNote, Mendeley, or BibTex. Furthermore, even if there are people who do need them, they can use the Evernote browser extension for their basic needs.

Yes, I am a "computer person." I am known to get riled up about how computers are turning more and more into content consumption devices rather than content creation devices. However, I doubt anyone is ever going to use a Chrome OS device as their main computer. It's convenient because I can carry around 3 pounds in my backpack rather than my other hulking laptop, and most of the time all I need while on campus at school is to be able to read the PDFs my professors put out on Blackboard and to be able to take random notes every once in a while.
posted by azarbayejani at 4:40 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do wish that we had Google Docs when I was in grad school a decade ago. My degree required constant collaboration and you almost never wrote a paper on your own. That meant that we had to keep emailing revisions of MS-Word docs around with names like "Preliminary_SRS_octothorpe_v2.doc and you never knew which version of someone else's editions you had; it was a mess. One poor sap in the team would always be up until 3 AM the day before a group presentation merging all of the individual revisions and cleaning up any inconsistencies. Something like Docs that allow multiple people to revise concurrently would have been a god-send.

That said, I'm still going to keep running an OS that can play Civilization on my laptop.
posted by octothorpe at 4:52 AM on December 15, 2010


I'm afraid of this stuff. I'm worried about how much of (what I think of as) my own information, I pay other people to be able to access.
posted by ServSci at 4:55 AM on December 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


However, at odds with my previous comment is the thing lots of people are saying about privacy. I see the possibility of people taking what people are trying to do to Facebook with Diaspora and transferring the idea over here. P2P cloud computing?
posted by azarbayejani at 4:58 AM on December 15, 2010


The tracking numbers were released, so if you signed up you can check to see if there is a unit scheduled for delivery to your town. I may still be getting a shiny, well matte, new toy!
posted by sammyo at 5:22 AM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Jimbob, her name is Sophia, she's 10...

I'm a grown-up who uses computers for grown-up (never adult!) things. I reckon I could get 99% of what I need to get done in the cloud/ on things like Google apps/ etc. I choose not to but I could, and if it made a huge difference to what I paid for a machine, I might. Most people's computing needs are pretty simple.
posted by rhymer at 5:54 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


That said, I'm still going to keep running an OS that can play Civilization on my laptop.

For a brief shining moment Freeciv.net was available in the Chrome web store, but it seems the whole thing has been shut down by its creator

Oh, you meant a non-knockoff? And one that was imitating anything later than the second game in the series? Oops.
posted by Gnatcho at 6:00 AM on December 15, 2010


Perhaps the coolest thing about cloud computing is that it makes it really easy to distribute software. You write it for the cloud, and that's that. You can have something running on a million computers an hour after you've written it.

So if someone has a bibliographically aware word processor, they don't need to go through all the hassle of creating an install process (something that still causes pain on every desktop OS), to say nothing of finding retail channels, and you don't have to work out whether it's compatible with your computer or whether you've got enough space or whatever. And a whole class of support issues goes away too - plus, if you go the whole hog and do the ChromeOS thing, you can forget about viruses and malware and all that begubbinated grossness. Well, mostly forget. It's nothing like the Windows nightmare.

Of course, there are problems and potential disasters. Always are. But in terms of making things better, having lived in the digital world since 8 bit days, I'm a complete convert to the idea that this is the way to go - and the new problems and disasters can be solved, which I'm not sure is the case in the old way.

As for 'can I take my media with me?' yes you can, and easier than now. All my stuff is on a home server - a ten year old laptop that cost me nothing - that I can get at from any of my teeny tiny connected gizmos, wherever I am. (Take a look at Pogoplug if you fancy playing this game but don't get your jollies from configuring your own server.)

And finally, this is what One Laptop Per Child should have been. Out there in the developing world, they get all the technology that we've sunk decades and billions of development resource into, and they get it at cost price. I've got a picocell and an Android phone that, between them, cost under £150 retail - which is yer wireless cloud infrastructure, right there. Next year, it'll be half that cost. One chip for your base station, one for your client, off you go.

And the cloud comes with all the data in the world, and all the new stuff that we push out, and with all the links ready when a couple of billion brains get connected and start thinking back at us.

Really. This is the good shit.
posted by Devonian at 6:05 AM on December 15, 2010


Why two seperate OSes?

Gmail creator Paul Buchheit doesn't see much point to Chrome OS and expects his former employer to either kill it completely or merge it into Android next year.
posted by briank at 6:09 AM on December 15, 2010


Lots of unique, groovy cars running on dirt roads. How about some bandwidth...that would be nice.
posted by judson at 6:28 AM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is pretty much the worst idea in the history of computing.
posted by empath at 6:29 AM on December 15, 2010


Oh, this is such bullshit. We have millions of handheld devices smarter than my first Macintosh and the best thing that Google can think to do with them is imitate X-windows?

Let's start with the issue that Google apps are not remotely standards-compliant and a front in a browser war with sluggish functionality under Firefox and broken functionality under Opera.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:32 AM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Gmail creator Paul Buchheit doesn't see much point to Chrome OS and expects his former employer to either kill it completely or merge it into Android next year.

I'm surprised it hasn't happened already. Since Android is going in the direction of supporting next year's iPad clones, it will already be a "keyboard" OS, just like ChromeOS.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:35 AM on December 15, 2010


What we've found out recently (painfully) that depending on the cloud - that is, any application that runs in a web browser - is that the instant you can't connect to it, you're screwed, blued, and tattooed.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:44 AM on December 15, 2010


There was a time when people said things like "I think there is a world market for about five computers."

That's an urban legend.


Did you even read the link you posted? I ask because it quite clearly states that people did in fact say this, just not so-and-so at IBM.
posted by nzero at 6:46 AM on December 15, 2010


Perhaps the coolest thing about cloud computing is that it makes it really easy to distribute software. You write it for the cloud, and that's that. You can have something running on a million computers an hour after you've written it.

There is an aspect to cloud computing that changes who has control, which is neither good or bad in itself, but could nonetheless lead to abuses. For example, Google can shut off software it doesn't like, or add a "feature" that gets distributed automatically to clients, which tightens control over user activity.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:48 AM on December 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's odd to me that people think in such an either-or way. Like there can only be one sort of computer in the world, and it's time to fight an epic battle over what that computer will be. "If you have to use google docs, what are you supposed to do if you need end notes?" But you don't have to use google docs! Does anyone seriously think that cloud computing is going to become so popular that no one bother making regular PCs any more?

I'm a programmer, and yet I own an iPad. I can't program on it. It's useless for my work. But it's awesome for games, browsing the web, watching videos, reading books, etc. So I work on my laptop and play on my iPad. (My laptop kind of sucks for playing, because I can't hold it in one hand while I'm holding onto a subway pole with the other hand.)

There IS a problem here -- expense. I'm lucky enough to be able to afford both a laptop and an iPad. Not everyone can. So some people MUST choose one or the other. (And of course, some people can't afford either.) But that's a separate problem. I'm hoping people will soon be able to buy something iPad like for $99.

I'm really amazed that there are people where who are saying things like, "You mean you can just browse the web on it, listen to music and write simple documents? Who would want that?" MOST PEOPLE! Maybe not the people you know. But if that's true, the people you know are in the minority, not the majority.

Before (relatively) cheap machines, like netbooks and iPads, started coming on the market, it sickened my that my parents and my wife were forced to buy these expensive, complicated machines that did all sorts of things they weren't interested in. My dad doesn't make his own music or movies. He doesn't write programs. He's not a heavy-duty gamer. What he does is read CNN.com, look at photos on flickr and send emails to his friends. HUGE numbers of people are like him.
posted by grumblebee at 6:51 AM on December 15, 2010 [14 favorites]


If RMS hates it already, it must be useful.

If it weren't useful, RMS probably wouldn't be talking about it. He's pointing out some legal and privacy risks associated with it that many users likely haven't considered.

Apart from those, I wonder: will a ChromeOS product purchase come with an SLA?
posted by scatter gather at 6:54 AM on December 15, 2010


Things like the Chrome OS and the iPad are all about the consumption of content, rather than its creation.

Au contraire mon frere!
posted by Scoo at 6:56 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Although I'm terribly angry because I haven't gotten one in the mail yet, here are my thoughts, since you're all dying to hear:
The fundamental problem with these systems is that they make a great assumption about the applications people use.
Assumptions are not problems, they're necessary prerequisites to designing anything. Look at any Apple product, or any product at all, and you'll notice that it's universal in neither capability or spec. If you want to say 'the fundamental problem for me using this is...,' that computes.

The argument that "software X doesn't have feature Y which is a necessity for me, therefore it is a toy to everyone" is kind of silly, both because feature Y might come next version and because the software may be designed to be something different than what you're comparing it to.

The argument that Chrome OS is not good for creators is mostly true, as it stands. Google isn't arguing that it is: google devs don't use Chrome OS day-to-day, but they do use NeatX, which might play a role eventually.
posted by tmcw at 6:57 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Poor rms, ever the Cassandra. Also nice to see thin clients making a comeback.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 7:05 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


grumblebee: Does anyone seriously think that cloud computing is going to become so popular that no one bother making regular PCs any more?

That is the hype that repeatedly keeps coming up, whether it's client/server stuff or file systems that we dare not call file systems.

Before (relatively) cheap machines, like netbooks and iPads, started coming on the market, it sickened my that my parents and my wife were forced to buy these expensive, complicated machines that did all sorts of things they weren't interested in. My dad doesn't make his own music or movies. He doesn't write programs. He's not a heavy-duty gamer. What he does is read CNN.com, look at photos on flickr and send emails to his friends. HUGE numbers of people are like him.

My counter-argument to this is that my dear old mom who was largely computer illiterate a decade ago is now doing desktop publishing and blogging, and my father is composing music and editing video. The people I see who are most enthusiastic about the iPad and ebook readers are people who have an MSWin, OS X, or Linux desktop.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:12 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


So if someone has a bibliographically aware word processor, they don't need to go through all the hassle of creating an install process (something that still causes pain on every desktop OS), to say nothing of finding retail channels, and you don't have to work out whether it's compatible with your computer or whether you've got enough space or whatever.

I think this is underestimating by far the costs and risks of setting up a server-based service. Google makes it look easy because they have what is probably the largest server farm in the world to throw at problems and are subsidizing the costs via advertising revenue from their search industry.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:17 AM on December 15, 2010


Yikes. Haters gonna hate.

A few things jumped immediately to mind. This isn't a thin client or an implementation of X-Windows -- it's a laptop computer that happens to be a bit lighter than most, and only ships with a web browser installed. The hardware design actually looks fairly nice, especially for a prototype. It's not up to Apple's standards, but looks far better (and more durable) than most netbooks that I've seen.

I was pretty skeptical of Chrome OS until watching Google's "Keynote" announcing the progress that they've made with the OS last week. I'd recommend watching at least part of it before jumping on the hate-train. If nothing else, their JavaScript interpreter is bloody impressive, and I think I'm starting to understand the use cases for Chrome OS a lot better -- for one, I think they match my work habits pretty well.

Right off the bat, they admit that we need more web apps (like the text editors and bibliography managers mentioned earlier in this thread). Fortunately, Google seem to have laid the foundations to make it very easy for developers to do this. My only complaint is that they're going to need to come up with some analog to the traditional filesystem -- I have a sneaking suspicion that more and more webapps will interface with Dropbox in the future to provide this functionality. In any event, most of the complaints you have about building applications inside of web browsers are gradually starting to go away. If WebGL and similar technologies take off, I don't think we're that far off from a browser-based Photoshop that offers everything that the desktop version does.

Speaking of javascript, some crazy dude built an LLVM-JavaScript compiler, which lets you compile C(++) code into JavaScript. Yikes!

I think that they also strongly imply that, like an iPad, the a Chrome netbook isn't designed to be your only computer. Personally, I've found that any laptop smaller than 15" is difficult to get "real work" done on, and that any laptop bigger than 12" ends up sitting on your desk 95% of the time. Keeping a cheap desktop on my desk, and a cheap subnotebook in my backpack (currently a 6-year old 12" Powerbook -- still a great machine even today) provides the best of both worlds.

Dropbox has immensely helped make this workflow possible. The "idea" behind Chrome is to take this to the next level. Also, Chrome notebooks should theoretically be even smaller and more durable, thanks to the absence of several parts that are normally necessary on a typical notebook.

The most impressive bit of the Chrome demo, however, was Citrix's presentation. To google's surprise, the corporate world is extremely interested in Chrome OS, and Google's demo was nothing short of awe-inspiring to me as a system administrator.

The guy pulled out his chrome notebook, hit the power button, and about 5 seconds later, had a login prompt, followed by a list of all of the published corporate applications for some fictional organization. Some web apps, some terminal apps, some X11 Linux apps, and some Windows apps (they used Excel as their demo). It'd be hard to ask for more simplicity and flexibility. Responsiveness of the Windows applications appeared "native," which was pretty impressive.

The other fun bit of their demo? "Jailbreaking is a feature, not a bug. Ubuntu should run just fine on any Chrome notebook."

So, yeah. I'm a fanboy Chrome OS. It's not perfect, but my initial reaction of "This is Stupid" was turned around pretty quickly by Google's demo. So I get my free laptop now, right?
posted by schmod at 7:20 AM on December 15, 2010 [8 favorites]


sammyo: Thanks for that link. That confirms my suspicions that I wasn't selected for the pilot program... ah, well.

I remember reading about gOS' Cloud OS a few years back and having a very strong reaction against the idea. I've warmed to it in the past year or so based solely on the strength of how well-developed and actually useful web apps can be now. It wasn't that long ago where the thought of web apps as anything other than dinky toys or proof-of-concepts seemed far-fetched to me. Not anymore.
posted by kryptondog at 7:22 AM on December 15, 2010


I don't get this. It takes away functionality but it doesn't really seem to offer much in return. The ipad, offers a generally more pleasant form factor, it is smaller, has a larger battery life, you give up a fair amount in exchange for this but the point is you get something.

I like cloud computing a lot. I like having my gmail available on any device I use, I like having my documents available at home or at work. I would really love if I had access to my music library on every machine that I used without actively having to worry about syncing certain songs.

What I don't get is how the chrome os is better at cloud computing than a windows machine or a mac which can do cloud computing and run local apps. I know it boots fast, and I like the industrial design, but it does seem like your giving up a lot to sort of symbolically affiliate with a potential future. It seems strange to me.
posted by I Foody at 7:25 AM on December 15, 2010


> Google CEO: Android Is for Touch, Chrome OS Is for Keyboards

Whenever you hear that kind of post-hoc weak categorizing of two overlapping products, you know the real reason is they didn't plan it that way and aren't ready to commit in one direction yet. They're going to have to kill one eventually or else deal with endless integration hassles and incompatibilities.
posted by stp123 at 7:25 AM on December 15, 2010


three blind mice: "Loss of control of data" just seems to be the logical conclusion of a world of free and unfettered distribution and use of digital information.

I don't agree with that at all. It may happen, but it's not at all inevitable.

As a smart consumer, one of your first priorities when choosing how to run your software should be: am I in control here, or am I being made subservient? If I choose to buy this product, can the company change the terms of the deal, whether I like it or not? If I feel abused and get angry at this provider, do I have an escape hatch? How much will it hurt me to stop doing business with the company?

The strongest advice I have for people choosing software is make sure you stay the boss. If you want software-as-a-service, great, but be absolutely certain that it's a service, not a lever to extract cash from your pocketbook, whether you happen to like it or not.

The federal government has learned, from a series of painful mistakes, to never buy anything that's made by only one company, as otherwise, they can be held hostage later. I would recommend learning from their experience, and never using any cloud service where you can't easily and quickly take backups, and transfer at least most of the functionality to a new provider if you wish, no matter how cool the product may otherwise look.

Google has generally been very good about giving you tools to get your data out of their systems and back under your control. In that regard, they're one of the most responsible corporations I know. But make sure you both understand the data-extraction process and actually use it to make backups, or you're putting yourself into a master-servant relationship the wrong way around.

You do not have to lose control over your data, you have to choose that outcome. I would suggest, most strongly, that many flavors of cloud computing will prove to be the new DRM.... except that the restrictions are being put on data you generated yourself, rather than purchased from someone else. Tread carefully.
posted by Malor at 7:29 AM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


A thin netbook is going to do a different thing to a high spec laptop, which will be different to a desktop, which will be different to a server.

sounds scary. what's it going to do to them?
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:30 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aside from ESR's legal concerns, there are some other catches to cloud computing.

I knew a guy from Microsoft, years and years back. They often talked about the future of computing. One Microsoft vision of the future was leased software — costs varied depending on how much you used it. You get your gas bill, your electric bill, and your Bill Gates bill.

Of course, this becomes very hard to accomplish as long as Microsoft's (or Adobe's, or Apple's ...) programs are running on a user's computer. Heck, some people even wriggle out of paying for software. Serial numbers are passed about. /etc/hosts files, carefully edited, prevent software from calling home. Cracks are implemented. Someone hooks up a logic analyzer to a dongle and goes from there.

However, if Big Software Corp's program was running on some kind of distant mega-computer with which the user could not fiddle, only receive results; if the resources of the remote system were carefully balanced and ongoing use of random-access memory, long term storage, and CPU cycles were somehow metered ... that is pentultimate step in the infrastructure required to make the pay-per-swing hammer.

All we need now is a working pay structure and train track is complete, only this time, John Henry has lost out. That railway spike was put there by the steam-hammer and it is the nail in the coffin of home computing.
posted by adipocere at 7:31 AM on December 15, 2010 [10 favorites]


schmod: This isn't a thin client or an implementation of X-Windows...

That's nice. No one said that it was. However thus far HTML 5 feels and acts much like X-Windows widgits.

kryptondog: I've warmed to it in the past year or so based solely on the strength of how well-developed and actually useful web apps can be now. It wasn't that long ago where the thought of web apps as anything other than dinky toys or proof-of-concepts seemed far-fetched to me.

Really? About the only web application I can stand to use on a daily basis is gmail, and even that's only for personal mail with few attachments.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:39 AM on December 15, 2010


One other thought: when you're not paying for a service, you're not the customer, you're the product. Be very careful about free services. What are you going to do when they decide to monetize you?

As long as you have an escape hatch, their ability to abuse you is limited. If you can take your marbles and go home anytime you want, they have to play nice. If you don't own the marbles and can't stop playing, you're in a very weak position.

If you're actively paying for cloud services, rather than using someone's free offering, that gives you a much stronger lever to pull on. Being the actual customer means they have to pay more attention to your needs, rather than some ad network's.
posted by Malor at 7:51 AM on December 15, 2010


I know this was a joke, but it hits on a major annoyance with the Chrome browser- no tab bar/address bar/etc when in fullscreen mode. WTF.

Yeah, what the hell? Too bad, as it might be fairly neat; I could see myself using it but not if it doesn't show the tab bar, at least.

I find the whole netbook concept pretty interesting, although I don't really see it displacing traditional content-creation PCs anytime soon. I don't see any scenario where the traditional multi-role (creation/consumption) machine is displaced from the office environment, and that's such a huge part of the market it's going to ensure their availability to anyone who wants one. (And as I've said elsewhere multiple times, consumer-oriented PCs, with the notable exception of Apple and some of the upmarket gaming stuff, is basically garbage anyway; replacing the $300 Best Buy blue-light special -- the one that had Windows ME running on it a few years back and now comes with some crippled Windows Home Edition -- with ChromeOS or an iPad-type device isn't really that big a deal. It'll probably be more functional since it won't be half-broken most of the time.)

So I don't think we need to worry about it suddenly becoming impossible to get a 'real' computer. Corporate America has RMS's back there, strangely enough.

What I do think is worth worrying about is a sudden increase in reliance -- by consumers who don't know any better -- on non-SLAed services. Blurring the line between what's on your hard drive and what's on Google's servers is a bit worrying, if Google is mostly saying "meh, best effort" in terms of service quality. Granted, Google's best effort is probably safer than most users' un-backed-up hard drives, but it's still something to think about.

I wouldn't mind some regulatory nudges towards at least ensuring, if not full interoperability between various services (that's a tarpit for sure) at least the ability of users to back up the data stored on a service on their own.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:57 AM on December 15, 2010


nzero: "I know this was a joke, but it hits on a major annoyance with the Chrome browser- no tab bar/address bar/etc when in fullscreen mode. WTF"

I think the download bar is an even bigger design flaw, to be honest. What is it for? Why do I need it, when I can just Ctrl + J, and do everything the bar does except with a better design and without taking up screen real estate?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:03 AM on December 15, 2010


I put in for one. If I get it, I'm gonna take it down to my parents in FL. They're in the their 70's, sharp and active, but the computer remains a problem for them to figure out. I think the concept of a simplified operating system would be a boon to older folk who aren't about to figure out Windoze, don't Mac it up, and are (moderately) proficient at cell phones.

I'm sure they'll give me feedback on how it works...
posted by djrock3k at 8:06 AM on December 15, 2010


I don't like the way laptops are being designed now and the google lap top is another step in that direction. I don't particularly care about cloud computer, but I do care about VGA and S-video out, card readers, USB ports, firewire and so on. No proprietary dongles either. I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive Apple for unleashing this style over features approach to laptop design.
posted by fuq at 8:07 AM on December 15, 2010


I can't imagine getting any productive output from Google Docs.

I've been using Google Docs to write my weekly film column for two and a half years now, so it is possible. And otherwise I find it useful for other light writing duties, particularly if I'm on the move and having to use multiple terminals.

That said, I haven't used it yet for writing anything longer than a few thousand words, mostly because for a very long period of time it did have some very elementary things baked into it (like a ruler bar for indenting paragraphs), and because the one time I ported a full novel into a Google Document it told me it was too large, and that's not a good thing. I suppose it's at a point where it could be used for writing a novel as long as I made each chapter a separate document, but if I'm getting to that point it's still easier to use Word.
posted by jscalzi at 8:14 AM on December 15, 2010


That's nice. No one said that it was. However thus far HTML 5 feels and acts much like X-Windows widgits.

Maybe I'm reading this the wrong way:

Oh, this is such bullshit. We have millions of handheld devices smarter than my first Macintosh and the best thing that Google can think to do with them is imitate X-windows?

Which was posted by you.
posted by azarbayejani at 8:37 AM on December 15, 2010


any application that runs in a web browser - is that the instant you can't connect to it, you're screwed, blued, and tattooed.

I'm generally on board with the idea of cloud/ distributed computing, but this is a thorn in my side as well. Losing signal means losing the ability to do anything, and that can be a bit frustrating. Right now I only really notice it on my phone, but if it was with my computer? I'd have a lot more passion on the subject.
posted by quin at 8:42 AM on December 15, 2010


I can't imagine getting any productive output from Google Docs.

Collaboration is the killer feature. My friends use it all the time for sign-up sheets, coordinating schedules, etc.

None of those things really belong in an office suite, but it's just too damn easy to do it in Google Docs, compared to setting up something customized. I also wouldn't write my thesis in it (I'd write it in LyX. Word also sucks for big documents). However, I'd totally use it to exchange notes and collaborate with my colleagues/advisors.

It's still not a full-featured office suite, but the collaboration features really are just too nice to pass up, and the rest of the suite is adequate for 95% of what you'd use an office suite for.
posted by schmod at 8:46 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm reading this the wrong way

Yes you are. Imitate and implement are two entirely different things. My argument isn't that AJAX interfaces implement the X11 API. My argument is that AJAX interfaces imitate the design model of old flavors of X11 (also Java) which involves high-level specification of generic widgets that are rendered in generally ugly, sluggish, and platform-specific ways.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:59 AM on December 15, 2010


I'd be less wary of "the cloud" if I could set my own up, rather than let a marketing company "take good care of my personal data".
posted by Dark Messiah at 9:00 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's the rub, since cloud computing often requires resources that only multi-billion dollar companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, etc. can apply. For lack of robust privacy and ownership laws, you're basically handing over all your data when you do cloud computing, hoping that the corporation you're doing business with will honor any such restrictions in the ToS agreement.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:08 AM on December 15, 2010


That's the rub, since cloud computing often requires resources that only multi-billion dollar companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, etc. can apply.

Or, under technological feudalism, second-tier lords who lease storage and CPU uptime from Google and Amazon.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:15 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have to say, I love how the Cr-48 looks like a laptop Cayce Pollard would use. Of course, part of it is the whole "prototype" business (no logos) but it's refreshing to see someone besides Apple making a laptop with a coherent aesthetic.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:16 AM on December 15, 2010


People don't use computers the same way us nerds do, why is this always overlooked?
posted by Mick at 9:17 AM on December 15, 2010


KirkJobSluder: Really? About the only web application I can stand to use on a daily basis is gmail, and even that's only for personal mail with few attachments.

I'm definitely not ready to sever all ties from local apps, but I use a few. Besides the obligatory google apps (gmail, maps, docs, etc.), I regularly or semi-regularly use Pandora, Grooveshark, PHPAnywhere, The Invoice Machine, drop.io (well, not anymore as they're closing shop today), Adobe's excellent BrowserLab, etc. I use several others on a one-in-a-blue-moon basis.
posted by kryptondog at 9:18 AM on December 15, 2010


> What we've found out recently (painfully) that depending on the cloud - that is, any application that runs in a web browser - is that the instant you can't connect to it, you're screwed, blued, and tattooed.

If your browser is recent and the web app is well-designed, the app can take advantage of client-side data storage to run locally while out of reach of the server for an extended period of time.

Fortunately, Safari and Chrome are really good at this now, Firefox is fairly good... as long as you're not dependent on IE, basically.

The real gotcha, of course, is the question of the competence of the web app developers. The vast majority of web platform vendors are, at best, going to half-ass the client side data and executables in some way that fulfills a feature checklist while not being effective or useful. A few are going to outright pooch it. Since Google is the biggest company at the vanguard of this, and Google has the most at stake by proving it's viable, Google's web services are probably going to be the most trustable for Chrome-type environments for the time being.
posted by ardgedee at 9:25 AM on December 15, 2010


People don't use computers the same way us nerds do, why is this always overlooked?

It's not being overlooked, it's that there are serious ramifications of sending everything into "the cloud", regardless of one's proclivities as a user. I'm speaking on the general level of "where is our data going; who can see it; what will be done with it", not specific features and usability. I can't speak for others, however.

Also, I am not saying the Google's cloud model is worthless; I'm also not deluded enough to think that ChromeOS isn't a sign of where things are headed.
posted by Dark Messiah at 9:26 AM on December 15, 2010


People don't use computers the same way us nerds do, why is this always overlooked?

Everyone in my experience is a nerd about something or has the potential to. The question is whether the anemic field of web-based applications will become robust enough to handle such old-lady nerdy things like genealogy, gaming, and video production.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:32 AM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love how the Cr-48 looks like a laptop Cayce Pollard would use.

I do love the aesthetics of this device. It's the first truly Modern design I've seen for a laptop; stripped to it's essentials with simple use of materials. At least it offers an understated, even classy alternative to the Fisher-Price popsicle look that's currently popular.

It's particularly interesting that they've felt little need to build a "weighty" or "solid" device. It's simply as light as they could make it. Why should heavy be a marker of quality? Because drop-forged steel is better than cast whitemetal? Why should that matter to lightweight composites? Bike people had similar reactions when carbon fibre came along. CF was perceived for years as too light to possibly be as solid as a regular metal bike. I don't want a heavy portable. I want one as light as possible.

The keyboard is the same. Those relics of early typerwriters and teletype terminals haven't been needed for some time, but scroll locks and caps locks are still found on modern keyboards. Even function keys were compensations for the lack of menus in ancient text editors (WordPerfect templates anyone? EMACS escape codes?). Stripping those off finally allows for better use of the keyboard area and maybe a bit of ui innovation. We can maybe also ditch the horrible, non-standard function keys laptop (I live in hope).

Regardless of how acceptible the thin clinet cloud model computing becomes, I think this bit of hardware is going to be one of the main design touchstones for laptops for the next few years.
posted by bonehead at 10:06 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the download bar is an even bigger design flaw, to be honest. What is it for? Why do I need it, when I can just Ctrl + J, and do everything the bar does except with a better design and without taking up screen real estate?

You're right- that thing annoys the piss out of me. On the other hand, not having the address bar/tab bar in fullscreen mode significantly impedes the normal functioning of the browser, whereas the download bar is just redundant and taking up space.
posted by nzero at 11:21 AM on December 15, 2010


Richard Stallman: The Admiral Ackbar of Free Software.
posted by edheil at 11:47 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


You're right- that thing annoys the piss out of me. On the other hand, not having the address bar/tab bar in fullscreen mode significantly impedes the normal functioning of the browser, whereas the download bar is just redundant and taking up space.

So you want fullscreen mode to do the exact same thing as maximizing your browser window? Isn't that kinda redundant?
posted by arto at 11:51 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


So you want fullscreen mode to do the exact same thing as maximizing your browser window? Isn't that kinda redundant?

I have a 1024x600 resolution screen. Screen real estate is premium. The difference between maximizing the window and using fullscreen is the height of my task/menu/status bar. I don't like or use autohide on my taskbar, so that difference is, for me, quite crucial.
posted by nzero at 12:14 PM on December 15, 2010


Eh, I'm split on the cloud computing concept; I'd much rather pay dreamhost or someone an extra 30 bucks a month to run my own cloud. That said, I'm going to withhold judgment until the first round of html5 web-apps are under heavy bandwidth load and see how reliable the whole thing is.

I still applied for it because the hardware looks gorgeous and I wanna see if I can shove backtrack into it.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:15 PM on December 15, 2010


The problem with cloud computing is you need to trust the the infrastructure that supports the cloud and it's connection to you. This will generally be some mixture of public and private entities anyone of whom could shut out any given user for a variety of reasons. Looking at what happened to Wikileaks/Assange, losing their service provider as well as their ability to access their funds or receive payments, I'd say I wouldn't want to trust those systems with any data I value.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:26 PM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


So... pretty much every netbook I've seen in the wild then?

I've met a number of people who use a netbook as their only computer. My stepson does this. I my self used an early netbook (a Sony Picturebook, specs are a good deal weaker than the current generation of netbooks) as my primary computer for about a year when I was out of work and couldn't afford to buy anything bigger.

The whole "computing power" canard is just that: a canard. The problem with most netbooks is metnal, not literal. There's enough power and sophisticated enough software, the question is whether people take them seriously enough to use them seriously.
posted by lodurr at 12:53 PM on December 15, 2010


Prior to this post, I'd yet to read anything committal on the Cr48 at all. Most people sort of shrugged and said in essence "but it's obviously not finished, so what can I say?"
posted by lodurr at 12:56 PM on December 15, 2010


I'm still unclear on why there are two OSs.

I think I understand the reasons it was originally imagined that way. In theory, ChromeOS should require less system resources. But Android is properly designed, it should be possible to scale the implementation down to use...less resources. I understand the reliance on the cloud, but ChromeOS just simply won't rely on the cloud in any fundamentally different way from Android. The whole "keyboard vs. touch screen" thing is just bizarre.

What I'm seeing is a rapidly-evolving ecosystem of cloud-computing devices (tablets and phones) running Android, which have access to a growing library of applications that you won't be able to use on ChromeOS.

Which makes ChromeOS a niche product. It's business-only, as I'm reading this situation, and at that it's old-think business-only. It's the same thinking that led to a plethora of "windows terminals" c. '99-02 or so. And yes, I know those were successful in a limited way, but they were nowhere nearly as successful as they were expected to be.

I just don't see ChromeOS being successful, and that's got not so much to do with the discontinuity of the cloud. Cloud-based apps will have to have offline capability, and as I understand that ChromeOS is designed to provide that. Where I see it failing is mindshare and R&D-share. Think about it: If you are making cloud devices, why would you divide your efforts like that? You're liable to pick Android or ChromeOS, or someone else is going to be concentrating their resources on one or the other and will outpace you. Anyone with a share in the phone market will be devoting resources to Android; are they going to bother making a ChromeOS model, when they can get arguably equivalent results from an Android device?

I suppose Apple's vulnerable to a similar criticism w.r.t. OS X and iOS; but they've actually made what seems to me to be the logistically smart decision to fork iOS only to the extent necessary to deal with the differences in the hardware platform and use-cases. (I'm guessing iOS isn't a heck of a lot more similar to OS X than Android is to ChromeOS, but I don't think that matters much.) Plus, they don't have to convince 3rd parties to invest time & money in two fundamentally different platforms: an iOS developer can work on iPhone apps or iPad apps without shifting gears much at all, at least that's how it's been presented to me. Can the same be said for ChromeOS "apps" and Android apps?
posted by lodurr at 1:15 PM on December 15, 2010


Well. If I was a company who need to get a bunch of people set up with laptops that have access to salesforce, basic email and document editing, chrome would be a decent choice, i'd think.
posted by empath at 1:41 PM on December 15, 2010


Sure. That's not the point. The point is that ChromeOS and Android are pretty fundamentally different. It's more like when Apple was maintaining two different OSs for different computer lines, except that they had a developed market for the Apple ][, IIc and IIgs stuff. This is Google saying 'we're going to launch a fundamentally different OS' when it's not clear that there's any important difference in the target market for the devices the two OSs will power.
posted by lodurr at 2:05 PM on December 15, 2010


ChromeOS apps are the internet, just websites. That's the point.
posted by azarbayejani at 9:51 PM on December 15, 2010


I know. For the most part, so are Android apps. They just don't look like it because they have an app interface. And as I understand it, the same will be true of ChromeOS. They'll just be different apps, based on a different API, without permanent local mass-storage. (But there absolutely will be local mass storage. It just won't be permanent.)

If this is about nothing but a purist obsession with being a "cloud" OS, then ChromeOS in its currently-envisioned form WILL fail. It can't fail to fail, because there's an alternative that the hardware manufacturers are already familiar with and are are currently in the process of figuring out how to provide business value through: Android.
posted by lodurr at 4:18 AM on December 16, 2010


> Google CEO: Android Is for Touch, Chrome OS Is for Keyboards

As someone who's installed Android on an x86 netbook, I can attest to this. Using Android with a mouse or trackpad sucks.

That being said, they're both browser-based OSes on top of a Linux kernel. I have no doubt that they'll all be part of the same source repository within the next couple of years. Whether this means that they'll both have the same name remains to be seen, however.
posted by suetanvil at 7:26 AM on December 16, 2010


What's important is whether they look the same to developers and integrators. If they don't, then one will die. And it will probably be ChromeOS. (Though the form of its death may well be having its name slapped onto a stripped-down version of Android.)
posted by lodurr at 1:31 PM on December 16, 2010


Looks like Google is very much embracing tablets with it's next version of Android.
posted by Artw at 3:57 PM on January 6, 2011


yeah, they clearly didn't expect the tablet wave. I'm not sure anybody did but Apple. For that matter, i'm not sure the tablet wave would exist without the iPad.

I still think ChromeOS will end up being more or less a build of Android.
posted by lodurr at 5:51 PM on January 8, 2011


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