No discussion of cloud operating systems is complete without a mention of Google's Chrome OS. While it is certainly not the first cloud operating system created, it is what has brought the concept to the attention of many.
There is a major twist to the story of Google Chrome OS though, as was revealed in a conversation between Ars and Google. In this discussion what Google said clarified the position of Chrome OS as an OS for specialized internet surfing devices, not personal computers.
Imagine this, a company unveils a new operating system for the sole purpose of playing games. An operating system is optimized for the heavy multimedia requirements of such a task. What if then, later on they also reveal that the OS will only be available on special devices which are optimized for same purpose?
What do you get? A gaming console of course! The idea of a gaming computers seems slightly ridiculous for the masses, surely everyone can't possibly like it. That however is the point; it is not for everyone but just those who enjoy gaming. In much the same way the operating system which runs on the PS3 wouldn't be considered a replacement OS for your desktop, Chrome OS is not a replacement OS either. It is instead an OS for a brand new category of devices.
Since Google has released the source code of the OS though, it is likely to find its way on all kinds of computers. Today you can get Chrome OS on a pendrive if you want to experiment with it, and you are likely to find many more uses come up as time goes on.
As an OS for a cloud device, Chrome OS gets straight to the point. You boot into the browser, and you start working. A review of Chrome OS is likely to sound much more like a review of the Chrome browser. Now we know though that the OS will feature some kind of application to handle multimedia, although it is easy to guess that such an application would, once again, run in the browser itself and be an HTML5 based interface. Such an web app, if included in Chrome OS would be able to play most popular kinds of audio (mp3, mp4, vorbis), and video (theora, h.264, mp4, etc) making it a decent multimedia application.
Other than the browser itself, Chrome OS has very few features. The window management system on Chrome OS does deserve a mention though. The window manager allows you to switch between windows using the familiar ALT TAB and also includes an overview of all open windows accessible by pressing F12. In this view you can peek into the tabs open in each window, and switch to it if desired.
Chrome OS is not really a participant in our review of Cloud operating systems, but it is surely the inspiration. It does not compete with operating systems such as Jolicloud and Moblin, as it is not so much a cloud OS as a device to access the cloud. Due to its specialized target it has been left out, otherwise the Palm WebOS would have to feature here as well!
Even so, Chrome OS devices are not a good fit for India, as undoubtedly the value of a "companion" device meant to be cheap will be undermined by the expense of a usable internet connection. While running everything off the cloud is certainly a brilliant idea, and is sure to be a model many applications aspire to in the future; it is doubtful that the world in generally, or Indian in particular, is ready yet. With an average internet connection speed of around 4.8Mbps in USA to as much as an average of a whooping 61Mbps in Japan, perhaps the meager internet population of a country like ours just doesn't factor in?
In countries like India, where broadband is still defined as a mere 256kbps connection, using application off the cloud is like running Windows Vista on a Pentium II off a collection of floppies. Not a pleasant thought indeed.
It is here that other models which offer more flexibility in approaching an internet-centric OS, such as Moblin and Jolicloud stand to do much better -- well in India atleast. If you are one of those Indians who spends most of his time online despite disadvantages, the operating systems we have reviewed should be quite useful.
It is quite possible that some time in the future, an operating system such as Chrome OS will become feasible for portable or even desktop computers, however right it is not a practical solutione. Right now what we need is an operating system which is well-grounded with native applications, yet is capable of taking the the internet to its advantage, of merging your local and online data such that your Picasa / Flickr photos are as easy to manage and edit as your local ones. There needs to be a transition period between our offline operating systems and our online ones, and these OSs come the closest to offering that.
An introduction to the expectations from a cloud OS.
A light, fast, modular Firefox based linux distro, which has you online in seconds.
A powerful linux distro optimized for netbooks, with a sleek easy to use interface.
||gOS 3.1 Widgets
Heavily wigetized Linux distribution with a large collection of internet application built in.
An easy to use Linux which is optimized for mobile computers, and is hightly integrated with internet services.