(Guest post by Charlie Wood, founder, Spanning Cloud Apps)
Let me first make a disclaimer: I’m a big fan of Google. For the last four years I’ve made a living selling add-ons to Google’s online applications including Calendar, Contacts, and Docs. (In fact, Spanning Backup was one of the first applications available on the Chrome Web Store.) I run my business using an array of Google tools. And I’ve made a tidy profit off of Google stock, although I don’t own any now. So I have a pro-Google bias.
With that our of the way, let’s zoom way out and look at the macro picture of what’s happening in personal computing these days. I almost wrote, “what’s happening on the web these days,” but decided that showed a prejudice, so I’ll instead talk about “personal computing”, a phrase we haven’t really used in the past fifteen years or so. And why is that? We all still use personal computers, right? Be they Macs or PCs, they’re still the machines we use to do our, uh, computing. Sure, we have our iPhones, iPads, Android devices, and whatnot, but I don’t know anyone who uses one of those devices exclusively. Everyone still uses personal computers. So why don’t we talk about “personal computing” any more? Because everything interesting happens on the web. So we talk about what’s happening on the web, or maybe more generally on the Internet.
Of course not everything we do with our personal computers involves the web. I’m typing this document on a word processor (Pages) running locally on my notebook computer (MacBook Pro). When I recently returned from a vacation to New Zealand, I transferred my digital photos from my camera to an application (iPhoto) running on my Mac. Yesterday I bought a bunch of music for my wife from Amazon and will burn it all to a CD using an application (iTunes) running on the same machine. So no, the web isn’t the end-all be-all of computing. But it is where the most interesting stuff is happening.
Let’s ignore for a moment the old standards of computing—word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and presentations from the 80′s, photos and music from the 90′s—and instead look at the applications of the current decade (whatever we’re calling it—have we decided yet?).
Google is a web application. Facebook is a web application. Twitter is a web application. So are YouTube, LinkedIn, and, well, I was going to say Gmail but that’s three Google properties in a list of six, which doesn’t seem quite fair. HotMail? (Is that still around?) Anyway, you get the idea. The things people use—real people who don’t work in technology, who don’t read TechCrunch, and who don’t have an opinion as to whether or not OpenID sucks (it does)—the interesting things normal people use are web applications. And the less-interesting things they’ve used since the 80′s and 90′s have web-app substitutes. So the web is where it’s at. But you probably knew that before I started rambling, so let’s move on.
The copy of Microsoft Windows running on your PC has little to do with the web other than the fact that it runs Internet Explorer or some other browser. Your PC, in fact, has little to do with the web other than the fact that it runs an operating system that runs a web browser. Which is quite shocking, considering the cost and complexity of that PC, particularly given how little of that cost and complexity goes toward running that web browser. How much time, money, and aggravation do you spend applying endless system updates, catching and removing viruses, backing up hard drives, installing and uninstalling software, and trying to figure out why things are running so slowly? It’s crazy. Every single PC user I know does all of these things all the time, and every single one of them hates it. I know I do, and I’m a “computer person”. I can’t imagine how frustrating the entire experience would be if I didn’t have a natural affinity for the things in the first place.
So imagine a group of very clever people sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and designing a new kind of machine that didn’t require any of those things, and instead was custom-built to do one thing: let you use the web. It might look like a personal computer, with a screen, a keyboard, and a mouse. It might look like a notebook, with a built-in trackpad. Or it might look like something else. But it would be built to get out of the way and let you use email, Facebook, YouTube, Google, and every other web site out there without having to deal with all that other “computer stuff”. That’s the idea behind ChromeOS. And it’s a no-brainer.
“But wait!” you cry, “What about the high-def video editing I do at work?” Well, that’s a great example of an application that’s suited to a more powerful kind of machine, one we used to call a workstation. Same goes for lots of other specialized applications. My wife, who is an architect, would still need a CAD workstation—likely a PC running AutoCAD. A video post-production professional would still need a specialized machine—likely a PC running AfterEffects. But just as PC’s were able to replace many dedicated machines in the last twenty years, web machines will be able to replace many PC’s in the near future. Not all, to be sure, but many.
Things fall apart; it’s scientific. If you don’t believe there’s disruptive power in simplicity just ask yesterday’s corporate giants. But do it in 140 characters or less.
So the web is a big deal and simple machines that let you use the web without unnecessary complexity will be a big deal. But does that make ChromeOS a big deal? Yep. Because ChromeOS is the thing that makes these simple web machines possible. It’s the thing that removes the layers and layers of sedimentary complexity that have built up in personal computing over the last 30 years. It eliminates a vast world of hurt made up of BIOS settings, device drivers, DLL’s, startup items, registry settings, and other things too painful to remember clearly. It’s the thin layer between the amazingly powerful yet inexpensive hardware available today and the amazingly powerful yet simple applications on the web.
ChromeOS is only a big deal to the degree that the web is a big deal and that today’s PC’s aren’t ideal web machines. Which is to say, it’s a very big deal.
(Cross-posted @ Spanning Backup)