Does Chrome OS Have Its Head In The Clouds?

What’s ‘Appnin with The Chrome App Store?The term ‘app’ has not been around for long in its current guise. Apple’s new ventures into mobile computing, the iPhone and iPad have lead to a massive surge in the demand for mini applications that can be downloaded and stored on said devices. Apple is the main proprietor of these apps with it’s iTunes store containing millions of games, utilities, tools and entertainment platforms, though Google’s Andriod app store and Nokia’s ‘Ovi’ store also attract smart phone fan-app-ics.

Following on from the massive success of mobile apps, Google has diversified into offering desktop web-based apps via its Chrome app store. This might seem a curious move.  Apps perfectly suit mobile devices as they eliminate the need to perform tasks directly through a small, fiddly touch screen browser, but are they really suited to desktop computers which are built to accommodate the storage and running of powerful programs? Google certainly seems to think so.

The Chrome app store adopts a similar layout to its Apple counterpart with popular and featured apps displayed in the centre of the screen, while categories and top tens are listed in columns at the margins of the page. The range of apps is remarkably similar to the offerings from Apple and 3rd party affiliate manufacturers with mini-games, social media widgets and other miscellaneous gadgets like calendars, note pads and weather stations.

As mentioned, this approach may seem counter-intuitive when one considers that pretty well every desktop already has most of this functionality built in as standard, but Google as ever, is plotting something big. The Chrome app store is rumoured to be put in place in preparation for the launch of the search behemoth’s new Chrome OS which is set to debut in the near future.

Google’s vision is to have an operating system that runs solely via the web, so when the machine starts, a browser (Chrome, obviously!) will appear, and this will contain all the apps that the user will ever need. So instead of Word and Excel, work will done on Google Docs and be stored ‘in the cloud’.   Designers of apps like Tweedeck have already got behind the Chrome app store, declaring to users that development will now switch to the Tweetdeck web app.

Many maintain that Chrome OS is aimed exclusively at the Netbook PC market and people who live their lives online doing everything they need to do in a Google Chrome browser. If Chrome OS does take off, it will give Google an unprecedented influence over PC vendors, who will only be able to use components that Google specifies and supports.  There are implications for hardware makers too.  Why would you need to make or buy so many bits of kit when a single Chrome OS powered Netbook could be shared by any number of people? "Your" individual Netbook would only exist online in the cloud and only becomes "yours" when you log on.

Since Chrome OS is designed specifically to work with the cloud, installing your own software simply isn't possible.  In fact Google will control and maintain the operating system remotely which means having an auto-update service that you can never turn off.  The assumption underlying Chrome OS appears to be that web applications (at least the ones that Google will allow you to have) will become more powerful which will reduce the need for specialised applications software.

Google’s vision is an interesting one and if nothing else, will surely eliminate storage issues and massively reduce start up time for machines. The fact remains however that Chrome OS enabled systems could be essentially unusable outside of big cities or places that don’t have WiFi hot spots. But then again, for all us SEO and Web Design geeks, if a place isn’t WiFi enabled, is it really worth being there anyway?!   Of course, if fast, universal Wi-Fi access does happen, Google could end up controlling a significant portion of the PC market!