Google Chrome: Browser Or Cloud Operating System? - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management
Commentary
9/2/2008
08:46 PM
Roger Smith
Roger Smith
Commentary
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Google Chrome: Browser Or Cloud Operating System?

By most accounts, the Google Chrome development team has dramatically achieved its goal of building a browser that combines a minimal design with sophisticated technology to make the Web faster, safer, and easier.

By most accounts, the Google Chrome development team has dramatically achieved its goal of building a browser that combines a minimal design with sophisticated technology to make the Web faster, safer, and easier.Walter Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal, who has been testing Google's Chrome browser for a week next to the latest version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, concludes "With the emergence of Chrome, consumers have a new and innovative browser choice, and with IE8, the new browser war is sure to be a worthy contest." Many cloud computing enthusiasts are overjoyed with Chrome and call it the first cloud browser or even the basis for a cloud operating system.

So says Nick Carr:

"To Google, the browser has become a weak link in the cloud system -- the needle's eye through which the outputs of the company's massive data centers usually have to pass to reach the user -- and as a result the browser has to be rethought, revamped, retooled, modernized. Google can't wait for Microsoft or Apple or the Mozilla Foundation to make the changes (the first has mixed feelings about promoting cloud apps, the second is more interested in hardware than in clouds, and the third, despite regular infusions of Google bucks, lacks resources), so Google is jump-starting the process with Chrome."

To which, Sam Johnston adds an amen:

"What is perhaps most interesting, though (at least from a cloud computing point of view), is the full-frontal assault on traditional operating system functions like process management (with a task manager that allows users to "see what sites are using the most memory, downloading the most bytes and abusing (their) CPU"). Chrome is effectively a Cloud Operating Environment for any (supported) operating system in the same way that early releases of Windows were GUIs for DOS. All we need to do now is load it on to a (free) operating system like Linux and wire it up to cloud storage (a la Mozilla Weave) for preferences (e.g. bookmarks, history) and user files (e.g., uploads, downloads), and we have a full blown Cloud Operating System!"

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Having downloaded and played with Chrome, I share Nick's and Sam's enthusiasm for Chrome's potential. I especially like the sleek tabbed interface, the faster JavaScript virtual machine, and the multiprocessing, multithreaded "sandbox" architecture, which prevents one tab from crashing another and provides improved protection from rogue sites. One of the best things about the Chrome software launch was Scott McCloud's clever and thorough comic book that explains Chrome technical details to journalists and bloggers. Chrome's got a ways to go to make it the basis of a cloud computing operating system, as Google co-founder Sergey Brin admitted at the Tuesday Chrome launch demo. "No, I would not call Chrome the operating system of Web apps. I think it is a very fast engine to run Web apps."

"With Chrome we will be able to bridge the divide; we will be able do more and more online," he said. "You will be able to access your work from an Internet cafe and get all those benefits."

One of the more troubling things about Google Chrome is something I found in its Terms of Service agreement (which most people click through without reading before downloading Chrome).

"17. Advertisements

17.1 Some of the Services are supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions. These advertisements may be targeted to the content of information stored on the Services, queries made through the Services or other information.

17.2 The manner, mode and extent of advertising by Google on the Services are subject to change without specific notice to you.

17.3 In consideration for Google granting you access to and use of the Services, you agree that Google may place such advertising on the Services."

Google is an advertising company, and it already collects a huge amount of personal data on everyone to target ads at us. Being the browser vendor will give them that much more personal and behavioral data, which will be even more worrisome if the Chrome browser evolves into a cloud operating system.

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