Counterpoint: Chrome OS Is Exactly Where Apple’s Headed

by Josh Rubenoff Dec 03, 2009

I really enjoyed Albert's article yesterday and wanted to write a rebuttal, since I agree with him on many points, but came to some different conclusions with the facts he presented. I also don't think Chrome OS is a threat to OS X, but that's because I believe Apple has anticipated the rise of cloud computing and has been slowly increasing their strength in that arena.

Apple's introduction of iPhone web apps at the 2007 WWDC was a disappointment because of the state of the Web at that time. The iPhone didn't support Java or Flash, which were the two main ways of delivering rich web applications and games to full-sized computers. Developers wanted to write desktop-class applications for what Jobs touted in January as "the most advanced mobile web browser", and the exclusion of Java and Flash made that very difficult.

The open Web's advancements since 2007, especially the ones that Apple's supported and funded, make the idea of rich mobile Web applications a much more feasible reality. HTML5 is a draft spec that's nevertheless fully supported on Safari 4. It provides an open standard for multimedia playback and complex animation. More interesting is Sproutcore, a Javascript framework for rich web applications created in 2007 and released under the MIT license. Apple financially backed much of the development of this framework, and it's responsible for the iLife-esque UI of the MobileMe web app suite. In the past two years, the Web's advanced to a place where desktop-class applications are possible, even on a mobile platform. Chrome OS is perfectly suited for this new paradigm, but Apple's helped them get there, and they're perfectly aware of exactly how much of an amazing opportunity cloud computing presents.

I'm just as concerned as Albert (if not more so) about data reliability and integrity in an OS so dependent on cloud-based storage, but I think what keeps me from outright condemning this idea is that HTML apps work perfectly fine offline. Those that take advantage of HTML5 are capable of local storage. Google could create a basic text editor in HTML5 and allow it to store data locally. I also think that arguments for Apple and against this strategy neglect to acknowledge that Apple has been slowly adopting web-based solutions for new products: first MobileMe and then

For example, you might argue that both of these are services, complementary to your desktop-class applications - but I'd remind you that iTunes LP/Extras are completely rendered in Webkit. I take these incremental steps to mean that Apple's recognized the strength of Chrome OS' foundations in HTML/CSS/JavaScript.

I'd like to reiterate that cloud computing scares the hell out of me (those pesky data reliability problems again), but nevertheless, I think the most oft-repeated dismissals of the Web as an invalid method of developing desktop-class apps are fundamentally flawed. Google, Apple (and even Microsoft, with its incredibly ambitious Windows Azure strategy) recognize the power of HTML in 2009 to deliver a rich experience. Chrome OS isn't the apex of a misguided strategy from a zealous Web-evangelist company. It's the natural evolution of a trend the entire tech industry is currently caught up in.


  • I think Chrome OS and so-called Cloud-based computing scares the hell out of a lot of computing enthusiasts needlessly.  These technologies are not designed to replace the PC as we know it today, as much as they are to supplement it and make every day computing tasks simpler and more reliable.

    Let me qualify that statement by giving you just a bit of history as I see it.  Before - say - about 1994, the vast majority of the populace of our little planet did not own computers.  For most people, computers were a business tool or a game machine and by and large, did not appeal to the masses.  Sure, lots of middle class kids cut their teeth on Commodore 64s, Apple IIs and the like, but these future computing enthusiasts were the geeks and nerds of their time. 

    Then came the World Wide Web and mass adoption by the non-savvy public.  It wasn’t Windows 95 that popularized personal computers in the home as much as Microsoft would like you to think, it was the appeal of the graphic-intensive Internet that could be run on a new generation of affordable computers, with mostly inexpensive dial-up service.

    Over time, computers became entrenched within mainstream society.  Grandparents and technophobes alike were learning how to type and taking advantage of this new medium.  And when the general public started getting “online”, along with it came today’s scammers who sought to pillage the ignorance of this populace. 

    This lead to massive amounts of malware, a steady stream of broken and unstable Windows installs, and a general perception that computers were very unreliable. 

    Fast forward to 2009 and take a look around.  Microsoft has done a less than stellar job of improving the security and reliability issues that became prominent in the earlier part of the decade, but they have certainly improved.  Apple has one again made the Mac relevant as it currently holds the thrown for reliability and a mostly malware-free computing experience.  But still, I’d wager that the vast majority of computer owners use only a tenth of the power of today’s machines. 

    Think about how many of your non-savvy computer owning-friends use their machines - I’d wager that by far the largest use is surfing the web, followed closely by email, IM and maybe the occasional office document or casual game (think Solitaire, not Call of Duty).  Do these people really need a MacBook Pro?  Or a Dell XPS?  Or any of the other “state of the art” machines that go for big bucks?  Of course not - and that’s why Netbooks have become popular.  A Netbook’s primary mission in life is to be a cheap, relatively disposable gateway to those simple tasks that the masses need a computer for.  They don’t appeal to me and you, the enthusiasts who bleed silicon, but they do appeal to an awful lot of the computer buying public.  The trouble is that they are still unreliable - and if they’re lost or stolen, along with them goes the user’s data.

    Enter Chrome OS.  An OS that is entirely capable of running the applications and services these people actually use - and it does so in an efficient and reliable way, without having to learn a whole new operating system.  It’s based on a web browser, for heaven’s sake - everyone knows the basics of browser use.  Another thing it has going for it is that no manual is needed.  Much like a refrigerator, this OS intended to work as an appliance - one doesn’t need to study up on confusing manuals or purchase any additional software to make it do what it’s supposed to do - you simply walk up and open the lid and go - instantly.  Need to store data?  No problem - if it’s not sensitive, you can trust it to Google.  If it is, plug in a flash drive and have at it.  Either way, there’s no worries about needing to maintain this machine in any way, including backups.

    In short, I can see the appeal of this device - but I don’t think it’s in any way in direct competition with OS X or with desktop Windows for that matter.  Marketed properly, this will become the “WebTV” of the 2010s.  I could even see it sold on larger notebooks for free or at a nominal cost at your local Verizon or AT&T;store as an all-in-one Internet solution, broadband access included.  But to compare this to OS X is apples and oranges (excuse the pun), two very different products to appeal to two very different kinds of customers.  Now, if that long-rumored Apple tablet ever does appear, that may be an apt comparison.  Until then, it should be fun to watch where Google goes with this thing.

    cwa107 had this to say on Dec 03, 2009 Posts: 15
  • I disagree that the Mac OS and Google’s Chrome OS are headed in the same direction.

    When the 64 bit kernel is enabled by default, by the middle of next year, then Apple will be moving in a new direction because of Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL. Mac applications will be running at 200 to 1200% faster than now. Apple will be gearing up for very heavy duty apps and games. So, the cloud is likely to be neglected.

    Both Apple and Google have good reasons to want to take down Microsoft, so they are cooperating to do that. Apple has no interest in the lower half of the consumer market. It is interested in the “cloud” only as a means to easily share information. Apple makes little or no profit from the Cloud, but Google makes all of its money there.

    What Google and Apple would like is to take the consumer market away from Microsoft. Apple would do it from the upper end while Google is moving from the bottom. Both the Mac OS and Chrome can provide security which Windows Seven lacks.

    The Chrome OS would be useful for Windows XP users who still run old software—about 40% of the computers in the world. VMware Fusion could run Windows XP programs well. This would not mess up the Enterprise company’s workflows.  Enterprise companies would find it cheaper to replace Windows XP with Chrome, because to run Windows 7, they would need to replace their old computers.

    UrbanBard had this to say on Dec 03, 2009 Posts: 111
  • Well said, and I agree completely.

    cwa107 had this to say on Dec 03, 2009 Posts: 15
  • The real competition isn’t between Mac OS and Chrome OS, it is between Windows apps and Web apps. Both Google and Apple have a common interest in enabling rich web apps that can displace Windows apps. For Apple, the goal is to reduce the application lock-in that ties users to Windows, allowing Mac OS X, iPhones, etc., to be the client instead of Windows PCs (and Apple wins). For Google, the goal is to drive everything to the web so that Google can be the server; if people use Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar instead of MS Office and Exchange, Google wins.

    laird had this to say on Dec 04, 2009 Posts: 2
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