Following the Chrome OS announcement by Google and the hype it generated, I was asked be several people to comment on it. If you lean back and take a certain perspective, it is fascinating to realize how well it fits into the long term technology lifecycle evolution. Having hated History classes as a student, I’m becoming increasingly impressed by the insights it can provide as years go by…
What we see in computing technology is that initially, new features and products are delivered as independent products. Features that become successful and ubiquitous evolve in functionality and become more generic, often ending up as an infrastructure or Operating System option. One of the most dramatic examples that I experienced was the Image Viewer (that is today part of Windows) for TIFF images. In the early 90’s, when Document Imaging was introduced, you could only scan and view documents using specialized hardware accelerators (a dominant vendor was Kofax). The extra cost to support TIFF viewing on a PC was close to $2000, plus an expensive monitor. Many Document Imaging companies (mine included) made a lot of revenue developing and selling Software viewers, reducing user costs by half. Finally (about 8 years later), Microsoft purchased the TIFF viewer that Wang developed and incorporated it for free within Windows.
The evolving Internet now brings about Cloud Computing, and many new features and products are gaining wide adoption (I refer to this in my “living in SOA” post). The Browser was very material in making that happen. The Browser can be considered as a window to the internet. But as more and more users expect to use net-native applications and devices, the Browser is clearly outdated and underperforming. After all, it was designed to display information – not to contain and execute business logic.
What users want now is a door to the internet – designed for bi-directional exchange and more, not just for browsing. Some vendors with extensive web application experience already understood that, and have come up with alternatives to the Browser that support Rich Internet Applications – such as Adobe Air, Microsoft Silverlight or Magic Software uniPaaS RIA. These are very compact engines (the uniPaaS RIA Client is only 2MB) that are designed to execute net-native applications, where the application code resides “in the cloud” (like portals) yet the user gets a rich interactive desktop experience (unlike portals). As I describe in “A battle royale for RIA market” however, developing applications for most of these “new doors” is pretty complex. A handful of vendors started addressing this hurdle, led by Magic Software with uniPaaS and maybe followed by Microsoft with ‘Alexandria’
Google Chrome OS seems to be right in the same evolutionary line. From the scant information I was able to get, it is trying to move all those hurdles down into the OS level and abstract them from users, so that users and application developers would be able to once again focus most of their effort on business logic and user experience rather than on underlying technologies. But we have to be patient and wait for it to become available. And then wait a few years for it to mature.
In the meantime, why not go ahead and use what’s available? After all, history also shows us that those companies who used the early Document Imaging products and systems did gain competitive advantages and developed their business, independently of what became possible later.