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Google Chrome OS: Why should people switch?

Google Chrome OS has buzz now, but a number of stars will have to align for many folks to migrate to it.

By Andrew Heining / November 20, 2009

Google Chrome OS isn't scheduled to arrive for another year, but Google has a lot to do before then to make the project attractive to the average user.

Google Chrome OS screenshot

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Will you be using Chrome OS a year from now?

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At the Web-based operating system's coming-out party at Google headquarters on Thursday, Google presented its vision of Chrome, and a huge amount of information on what the browser and operating system are based on, how they run, and the safeguards in place to ensure they run well. But missing in all of that, at least to this observer, was a clear exposition of how Google plans to get users onboard – in essence, the hook.

Now, to be fair, we're a year off – Google vice president of product management Sundar Pichai stressed as much before launching into the thinking behind Chrome. But after all was said about Chrome (and boy, there was a lot said in the hour and 20 minute-long presentation) we're left with one big question: Why?

The answer to the first why – "Why is Google pushing this and investing so much?" – is pretty simple: Advertising. A super-fast, Web-geared operating system is the smoothest road online to Google ads.

But the other why – "Why should I use it?" – is a bit harder to pin down. If there were some killer something, we could see it. A really sleek device like the mythic Apple tablet – or better yet, a free one – would do the trick. But Google's revelation, that Chrome will run on just a select list of netbooks to start, and that it would be aimed primarily at the secondary PC market, has us scratching our heads. People upgrade from, say, a Ford Escort to a Mustang for the horsepower, from a Corolla to a Prius for the gas mileage. What's going to make folks ditch Windows or Mac OS X for Chrome? It can't just be Chrome's touted speed, can it?

Many people don't like changing browsers, let alone operating systems, yet Google expects them to jump to one that does away with such basics as local storage, offline access to data, and the familiar interface they're used to? Yikes.

Google is first to admit that many things need to fall into place for Chrome OS to appeal more than just a niche audience – and many are already in motion. Netbooks need to continue their rise in popularity, phones need to continue their trend toward mini computers. HTML5 and its peripheral-tapping power needs to be more thoroughly hashed out and developed. Desktop apps need to be turned into Web apps.

And most important of all, the cloud, the backbone of Chrome and any apps that would run on it, needs to become more trustworthy. (Imagine what your computer would resemble if an outage like the ones that recently struck Flickr, GMail, and Twitter hit the Google cloud – a svelte paperweight comes to mind.)

Many in the tech world are skeptical over whether Chrome OS can meet its lofty goals, but one thing's for sure: if Google can pull them off, it will have engineered a revolution in the way people think of computers.

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What's your take? Are you excited about the prospect of using Google Chrome OS? Put off by its limited specs or supported devices? Leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter – we're @CSMHorizonsBlog.

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