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We all know about the Windows Operating System (OS) and the Apple Operating System. There are others; Linux and its UNIX ancestors and cousins, VMS, BDS, SunOS and others.  The operating system is the foundation software that makes a computer what it is. I often explain an operating system to non-techies as all the mechanical stuff between the steering wheel and the front wheels of a car. We turn the steering wheel and the ‘operating system’ makes the front wheels turn in reponse. So, what is Google doing now?

Google is currently developing and testing the Chrome Operation System. The idea behind it is novel. For speed and safety the idea is to base the OS on cloud computing. All of the data manipulation, calculation and storage are to happen in a set of ‘cloud computers’ rather than on the local workstation.

If you are not up on cloud computing just take that to mean a cloud (something nebulous) of computers. If one is doing something that needs lots of computing horse power, like predicting the weather, cloud computing is a good way to go. It has other possibilities and the Chrome OS is one.

The Chrome OS is said to be very much like the Chrome web browser. Applications like word processing run inside a tab. An Excel like application could be in one tab, Word in another and an Outlook like app  in yet another.

You can read more about the Chrome OS in JR Raphael’s article, Google Chrome OS: A Simple FAQ,

For those of us playing online games the Chrome OS is not looking too good. But it has possibilities. More and more we are hearing about interfaces for games that allow one to play virtual world games via a web browser, i.e., Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and others. The idea with browser based games being to get away from the need for people to have powerful computers and high end graphics cards. The game play and images would be handled server side, cloud computing, to take the load of the local workstation.

While all this sounds good, there are some problems. If one wants to write a program and run it, they are mostly out of luck. All programs have to run in the cloud side computers. That is a good thing, if you want to keep viruses out. It’s a bad thing, if you’re a mad scientist trying to open portals to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

One does need to remember that Google is targeting a narrow section of the computer market. Those users that can get by with a narrow set of generic tools.

If one is into computer history the Chrome OS sounds much like the old mainframe and workstation terminals. Accomplishing work required the terminal to be connected and that an application for the task you wanted to perform is installed on the mainframe. While many of the problems that caused the mainframe style of computing to be abandoned can be overcome with modern technology, it still seems like a step backward. In Chrome OS if your Internet connection is down, your computer is down. As it is now if my Internet goes down I can use Photoshop. It looks that will not be possible with Chrome OS. In fact, I may not be able to use Photoshop at all, unless a version is written for Chrome OS.

Whatever the future of Chrome OS we do know it is not planned for release until late 2010. You can try it out now in its beta form. The beta version is only for the technically strong of heart. See: Introducing Google Chrome OS

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