Right now, on the computer you are using, millions and millions of lines of code are being executed to facilitate your operating systems operation, interface, services and installed applications; only a fraction of which are being used by your browser.
Right now, on the millions of computers in the world there is a sizable fraction of people who are doing the same. Resulting in perhaps of trillions of wasted computer instructions that render icons no one is clicking, running services few care about.
There are many among us who have bought a computer solely for the purpose of surfing the internet. Google Chrome OS brings these many just that, a simple computer which switches on like a TV, and lets you browse a website as easily as you browse TV channels.
By running just the bare essentials of the OS with a browser on top, your computer is now perhaps the most efficient consumer of internet. Yes, Google Chrome OS is reducing pollution by making computers more efficient. Sounds ridiculous? It probably is!
In all probability Chrome OS is Google's way ushering more people online -- by making the hardware simple and fast to use and cheap -- since those are the people they make most money off of. However, my point here is, Chrome OS is here, now what?
For an average computer user, it is almost protocol to mention creating documents, editing spreadsheets, viewing photos. That is a stereotypical template for an average computer user, someone who runs the billions of lines of code which make up Windows 7 in all its 3D glory, just to type a few words, punch in numbers and chat with his friends.
So what is Chrome OS?
Succinctly: Chrome OS is a bootable browser. It is the Chrome Browser running on a Linux distribution which is optimized to simply only run Chrome. To give it some semblance of an OS, it will view and open files stored on an external drive, and will be able to print.
So is Chrome OS right for you? What can you really do with it?
If you live in India, the answer is NO, and nothing much! Those vacation pictures will probably take you a couple of days to upload anyway, and the only way to watch a movie on YouTube is to probably keep the window open all night. The time will come, we're sure, and by the the rest of the world would have moved on we're sure.
To answer this question for anyone else, you need to think about what you really do with your computer, because there will be people who don't quite fit the "average joe" template, yet might gel with Chrome OS instead. If you already do most of your work online, and if you believe that whatever few tasks you need your non-browser applications for can be done online as well, you will probably find that Chrome OS -- or any browser infact -- will be sufficient for your needs. This is just too obvious.
However going a bit further we realize that we use our computers more than we think. Let us take a the simplest of workflows on a computer. Opening a file:
You browse to the file in your file management application, double-click it, it opens in the associated application.
Now how would this work on the internet?
You browse to your storage service using your browser, click it, it starts downloading, you wait, you upload it to the service which can open it, you wait, it opens.
To be fair, we are now seeing better flows across application, such as opening documents attached with an email in GMail using Google Docs, or opening files stored on Box.net with Zoho, and there are thousands of services available online. More choice right?
But really, how much choice do you have? If you want a working workflow, where you don't need to download files from one service to upload them to another, you have few options, store documents in Box.net / Zoho and open in Zoho, or store them in Google Docs and open them in Google Docs (if you know other examples of such smooth workflow, do let us know in the comments below).
The cloud is open and Chrome OS is open, but what after that? You cannot install Google Docs on your own server, so you are essentially locked with whatever services are available online, however much you trust them.
Images on the other hand have a much better workflow, most online image editors will provide support for at least Picasa Web Albums, Facebook, and Flickr. Applications such as Photoshop.com, Avairy etc offer editing options online, so you can go from Picasa / Flickr to Photoshop.com back to Picasa / Flickr then on to your blog.
However looking back just a year, we can see how the interoperability of services is constantly improving and thinking of how far they can go in another year -- before Chrome OS comes out -- we can be sure that the cloud will become more lucrative over time. It is almost certain that Google's plan for Chrome OS will not end here, they will not just dump a browser installed on your computer and expect you to deal with it.
What the web will need then is storage services which can cater to any service, and the ability to set associations with such services. The web has quite some way to go before it comes to parity; hopefully Google is up to the task.
In the following article series we will take a look at the kind of workflows available online, and how far they can take you.