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Sunday, 19 July 2009 18:51

It's the Internet, Stupid.

Based on the Linux kernel, Google Chrome OS attempts to reposition Linux a long way from being a Windows competitor.

Let's face it; Linux is really nothing more than “Windows for Nerds.”  

Sure the goodies under the hood are more amenable to tinkering – in fact we're actually *allowed* to tinker.  Further, it's a general-purpose windowing (note: lowercase 'w') operating system capable of use in a variety of 'office' and other corporate applications.  The full range of general-purpose tools are readily available – office productivity, graphical manipulation, file management

To the best of my knowledge, there is no category of application that runs on (any variety of) Linux and not on Windows.

So, this suggests that current incarnations of Linux are functionally no different than Windows itself.  “Why bother” springs readily to mind.

Let's come at this from a different direction.

For more years than I care to remember, organisations have oscillated between desktop-hosted and remote-hosted applications.  Obviously “in the beginning” we only had remote-hosted applications – running on mainframes; but since then, we have drifted toward the desktop with the rise of personal computers; then back again with the advent of local area networks.  

All the while, mainframes never quite seemed to go away.

The world wide web, while initially a mostly read-only technology, has certainly evolved from there.  Quickly adding both a two-way files environment (sharing of content) and also an interactive service (web-mail for instance) followed later by more interactive technologies such as chat and business-focussed tools, such as customer-focussed eCommerce.

Aside from some specialised applications, business-centric applications were relatively late to the party.

But once there, they rapidly moved to become the dominant force.

These days, there are any number of dominant players – being an obvious example, that occupy the completely interactive space.

This was the beginning of “the cloud.”  There are plenty of factors that drove its adoption -increasing Internet speed, improved performance confidence, even certainty in the safety of remotely stored data – however, the cloud was waiting for a reason to shine – perhaps a recent iTWire item How Green was my Cloud - gave a reason – so-called 'green computing.'

Cloud computing is based on the premise that the advantages of off-site computing significantly outweigh the disadvantages.  There are a number of factors at play here; interestingly, the pro-cloud factors are generally logical and factual, while the anti-cloud factors are considerably more tenuous.

  1. Cost of ownership – the rental of a share of an asset must be cheaper than ownership
  2. Multiple layers of redundancy – don't expect a cloud-hosting data centre to be off-line very often (and they'll have more experts to get it back online than you could ever summon)
  3. Accessible from anywhere there is an Internet connection

  1. Loss of control
  2. Relocation of computing resources from asset list to profit-and-loss statement (dammit, I like to be able to see the computers that are hosting my data)
  3. Issues of trust

Certainly there are applications that require huge infrastructure levels at the desktop – image editing for instance – cloud computing will probably never be seen here; but for the vast majority of applications, there is really no need to fight the cloud.

Is it becoming clearer just how important Chrome OS is?  Read on.

Chrome OS is the missing link.

As the focus moves to the cloud, the necessity for complex infrastructure at the desktop wanes.

The Cloud is probably the first real deal-breaker for Microsoft at the OS level.  Gone is the need for complex Operating System infrastructure to support a myriad of applications on an uncertain hardware platform.  Instead, the vast majority of business software will happily run on a trivial desktop with a browser connection to any number of cloud services.

'Trivial desktop' is the key here.  All the desktop need be able to do is run a browser.  Any OS with grander designs is destined to be a dinosaur.  Returning to the title of this piece, we have to recognise that the Internet is the deal-breaker in all this.  In fact even Bill Gates recognised this in 1995 when he famously changed Microsoft's direction 'on a dime' as it were to support and embrace the fledgling Internet.

Unfortunately, Gates only recognised half of the problem – he bet the company on a client-only solution.  It's a pity that will end up being only the minor component.  Thus Chrome OS - the smallest amount of OS needed to support a browser.  Chrome OS will never challenge Windows - that's the wrong thinking.  Instead, it will create a whole new desktop ecosystem that Windows can never be part of.

Whereas Gates and Microsoft believe that the desktop is king, the cloud is telling us that the king is everywhere.

The king is dead, long live the king – it's the Internet, stupid.

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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