One of the most profound changes in how computing services are being delivered is the use of the Web as a frontend for just about everything. We have seen this transformation in the thousands of software as a service (SaaS) offerings that have appeared in the last few years that now cover the entire spectrum of applications from corporate accounting through to video editing (something that just a few years ago was hard to imagine becoming a reality).
Now the Web is redefining not just how processing functionality is delivered but also what an application is and what an operating system is.
In the application development world Adobe's Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) is perhaps one of the most profound re-thinks of what should be the underpinnings of application architecture by making it possible to deploy applications on the Web and the desktop of Windows, Mac, and Linux with more-or-less identical functionality. If you doubt the success of AIR consider that by January of this year, a scant year after the version 1.0 release of the SDK, Adobe claimed 100 million installations.
Now Google is pushing the envelope with their recent release of details about the much rumored (and hyped) Google Chrome OS. Google also has a video explaining the end user context of GCOS which is useful (its cheery hipness may well annoy you as much as it did me).
You could describe Chrome OS as the big brother of Google's Chrome Web browser. Entirely Web-based, Chrome OS sports a tabbed interface to manage concurrent applications which are all Web-based (you can forget all of your standard desktop applications, this is not a Windows alternative) and it eschews client-side hard disk storage for flash and cloud storage.
The intention of Chrome OS appears to be to define the netbook market and thus it is being designed to run on both x86 and ARM processors. The entire code base is open source but Chrome OS isn't intended to be something that you'll download and install on a netbook; rather, you'll get Chrome OS pre-installed on Google approved devices. That said, being open source it is guaranteed that the OSS community will jump on the chance to extend, enhance, and port Chrome OS onto just about every conceivable platform.
Some of the most powerful concepts in Chrome are about the issues that users complain about with Windows. For example, updating Windows is a messy, ugly business that users really hate. With Chrome updates are intended to be transparent and automatic – you'll always have the latest version and patches immediately on refresh. And should your Chrome OS instance get corrupted or compromised, the intention is the Chrome will self-heal.
So, will Chrome OS succeed? My money is on big-time success in the consumer market. We've already seen the surprising success of netbooks which address consumer market demand for low price and portability. Add to that simplified maintenance and repair and Google's huge brand awareness and I'd say that the probability of success is very close to 100%.
In the corporate market, Chrome OS will make slower inroads. The SMB market will certainly be paying attention and as their infrastructure investments life out the lure of cheap computing will become very strong.
The enterprise market will, in a limited way, embrace Chrome OS but only as much as they need to embrace user demand – enterprise manageability concerns will need to be addressed to allow Big IT to feel at all comfortable. That said, enterprise IT will most likely have the same scenario they faced with users bringing their own laptops into the work environment and WiFi within the enterprise envelope –unstoppable trends that had to be controllable and, to some extent, accommodated.
Google's Chrome OS is scheduled for release towards the end of 2010 and I believe will be, to say the least, an important event with long term implications for how consumers and the enterprise deal with personal computing.