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Opinion: Why Chrome OS will fail -- big time

By Randall C. Kennedy
November 20, 2009 06:15 AM ET

Sadly, none of the above UI constructs is particularly original or compelling. The tabbed interface and "dockable" favorites are clearly derivative of Mac OS X and/or Windows (depending on whom you ask), as are the status icons and pull-down applications menu. In fact, nothing about the Chrome OS UI jumps out as innovative. Rather, it simply replaces one set of metaphors (Start menu, taskbar/Dock, system tray) with a bunch of Webified equivalents. And though I can certainly appreciate the advantages of doing away with those heavy legacy OS windowing layers -- Web content is lighterweight and easier to isolate from a security standpoint -- it also serves to limit the environment's overall utility.

The world won't buy an inflexible OS And that's where I believe the Chrome OS ultimately fails. In its effort to pare the traditional OS model down to the bone, Google has thrown out the one characteristic that made Windows and, to a lesser extent, Mac OS X and full-blown Linux successful: flexibility.

Simply put, the Chrome OS is too narrow. It assumes that the world is ready to give up the traditional personal computing paradigm and live full time in the cloud. In reality, most users prefer a hybrid existence, with some of their data and applications stored locally, and others -- typically the freebies, like Gmail -- hosted online.

Perhaps the easiest way to put the Chrome OS into context is by comparing it to the OS it's designed to supplant: Microsoft Windows. Like the Chrome OS, Windows lets you boot your system, surf the Web, and manage your data. Unlike the Chrome OS, Windows also lets you run rich, local applications and services -- and do so on the hardware of your choosing.

Don't forget that Google's plans for acceptable hardware to run the Chrome OS is very limiting. No hard drives or even DVD drives; only solid state drives. That may reduce power usage and speed up boot time (as if that was really an issue), but it also means you can't run your own apps, or store and access data, when you don't have a live Internet connection. Plus, the supported laptops are only netbook-size laptops, with low-power CPUs that won't be all that capable. Sure, Google says you can use a PC or Mac for that stuff, and Google is right: You will. Why you would want a Web-only appliance as well is not so easy to answer.

The bottom line is that while there is virtually nothing that you'll be able to do with the Chrome OS that you won't be able to do equally well with Windows, there are literally millions of things that you can do with Windows today that you'll likely never be able to do with the Chrome OS.

So don't be surprised when you start hearing about early Chrome OS adopters trying to reformat their systems with Windows 7 Starter Edition. After all, people are easily distracted, and the Chrome OS already bores me to death.

This article, "Why Chrome OS will fail -- big time," was originally published at Follow the latest developments on cloud computing, Google, and Chrome OS at

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