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How the Google Chrome OS Works

The Future of Chrome OS
It's too early to tell how the majority of computer users feel about saving their private, secure data on Google's servers, as the Chrome OS requires.
It's too early to tell how the majority of computer users feel about saving their private, secure data on Google's servers, as the Chrome OS requires.

In spite of its Google branding, Chrome is anything but a sure bet in the OS arena. At its core, Chrome is a variation of Linux, which has been around in various incarnations since the early 1990s. In other words, why would Chrome succeed where other versions of Linux have failed?

There are plenty of challenges for Google to address. One issue that may drive away users is that without an Internet connection, a Chrome computer's capabilities are severely restricted. Sans Web, there's simply not much this kind of machine can do, because it can't access any data or even programs other than the included media player.

Many users may also be turned off by the idea of storing all data online. Most people are used to saving at least a few critical documents locally, and being separated from that data may be too much to bear.

Privacy issues are another concern. It's one thing to store a list of passwords or important financial information on your own hard drive. It's quite another to story that information on a Google-owned server, no matter how many assurances the company touts in its privacy policies.

Other users might be confused by the fact that Google already offers an open-source OS called Android, which is becoming increasingly popular for smartphones. Publicly, Google insists that there are differences between Android and Chrome. It says Chrome is simply for people who spend the bulk of their time using their computers for Web purposes, and that although Android does the same things, it also has a lot of non-Web related capabilities. However, the two operating systems do overlap and may converge in the future.

Google may also encounter resistance from users who don't like low-quality netbooks. But those people may not have to wait long for Chrome to appear on better PCs. There's a good chance that if Chrome is successful on netbooks, Google will begin offering an updated version of the OS for more powerful laptop and desktop computers. However, the first releases are geared toward netbook offerings from the likes of Hewlett-Packard, Acer, Lenovo and Asus.

There's also the issue of control. People are concerned that Chrome puts them totally at Google's mercy, with less control over their own data. To counter these issues, Google relies heavily on the goodwill it has generated over the years. And because many businesses already rely on a suite of Google products, such as Google Voice, Google Docs and Gmail, Google is betting that people will be likely to adopt the Chrome OS, if only due to inertia.

It's too early in the Chrome game to see exactly where it will end. Perhaps Google will make substantial inroads into the OS market, further angering rival Microsoft. Or perhaps users will see Chrome as too restrictive and too skimpy -- even for a secondary computer.

In time, we'll see just how Google's Chrome gamble plays out. The company that revolutionized the way we use the Internet just might transform our concept of computing as a whole, too.

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