Google ChromeOS – a non-event

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The net is abound with buzz nowadays about the aannouncement of a Google “Operating System” due to come out the second quarter of 2010. Yawn..

Beyond the discussion of what qualifies this as an Operating System, for which I will direct you to two excellent articles by TechCrunch and The Register (Caution: colorful language), there is also the question of what the product actually is. According to Google, the Chrome OS is “Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel.” In other words: Install Linux, Install Chrome, take away anything that isn’t Chrome, and expect who ever is using this to only use tools that run in Chrome. Seems to me this should take about a week for a competent System guy to do, assuming he has to write his own scripts.

So what’s the big deal here? The “new Windowing system”? Gnome, KDE, and the rest aren’t good enough for you, you need something that will launch Chrome automatically without showing a Desktop first? I mean seriously, what are they going to be spending a year on?

The answer is as simple as it is sad: they are going to spend the next year on trying to make Chrome do things the way a real OS does, and on trying to make Web-apps function like real apps. With all kinds of hocus pocus like HTML 5, Google Gears, and G-D knows what else, they’re going to try and develop a comparable platform for running the programs you need inside a browser.   I doubt they’ll succeed, and I seriously doubt that they can do it in a year.

And that’s the bottom line. No one really cares is the OS they use come from Microsoft, Mac, Linux, or Ed’s computer shopp and live tackle, they simply want to install their applications (that they’ve been using for years) and have them work. Period. This is the reason that after a great valiant run at Linux, I came back to Windows. It let me do the things I wanted, and have been doing for over a decade, without having to re-learn and re do everything. Trying to get everyone to shift paradigms and move to Google Docs is one thing (and a daunting task at that). The fact that Google Docs can’t do everything that office can is completely different. In the larger scheme of the corporate world, a $200 saving on a computer with a free OS is nothing compered to the amount of time, and hence money, wasted on trying to relearn years of established ways to do things.

There’s even more to is than that. As the Register points out:

But it’s not just Office that will keep Microsoft’s hold on the PC market. Can you replace Active Directory with a web app? Is there a site I can visit to connect to my office’s shared printer? What do you mean World of Warcraft doesn’t run in the browser? How do I play a DVD in Google Chrome?

And he’s absolutly right: The greatness of a true OS is that it can run ANYTHING, not just thing that are written in the limited context of the Internet. And if a program is installed on my hard drive it will run with or without a network connection, and can access and modify the files on my drive without the fear that sudden server congestion will break it. Until ChromeOS can claim even a little of that, it is not Operating System, it’s a non-event.

Good Weekend,

B.E.

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The epitome of gimmick

*** The original address for this post is https://bigendian.wordpress.com. If you read this post anywhere else, it means: A. It’s stolen.  and B. You read some mighty boring sites (That would steal THIS). 😉  ***

I haven’t had much time to update in the past couple of days (lots of fun Java work) but I wanted to share a small site which I think is a serious contender to the “Epitome of Gimmick” award: http://blackle.com/

The concept is simple: Darkness takes less energy than light, therefore, if we make our screen entirely black, it will take less energy than if it were white (like Google).

It’s a gimmick for two reasons.

A. Depending on your screen, black may actually take more energy than white, and

B. If you had said this five years ago, people would have looked at you like you’re nuts and asked you if you didn’t have anything better to do. If you say it five years from now, people would look at you like you’re nuts and ask we don’t you invest your energy in some REAL energy saving solutions.  But now, right now, people are already concerned enough about the environment to listen to things like this, and clueless enough to actually follow them. This leads to a site which has no distinction other than its color scheme becoming a major destination on the Net.

Something that isn’t special, but has something that looks special enough to attract your attention. Yup, that a gimmick alright. 🙂 Personaly, I’m waiting for the IPhone app that would blacken the touch screen…

Ok, Back to JavaLand.

B.E.

Asking questions that mean something.

Here is a trivia question for all the minutia lovers out there: what former US surgeon general looks like colonel sanders and has a name that has something to do with chickens?

Go ahead. Type that into Google, bing, or Wolfarm alpha, and see what you get. Chances are it’ll be a long laundry list having to do with Obama picking his surgeon general, KFC, or chicken jokes. In fact, you will get a whole load of matches to your query, but you will not one simple thing: an answer.

This is, of course, because search engines don’t understand questions. They simply scan your search terms for keywords and try to give you relevant pages. They do some rudimentary grammar analysis to try and determine the subject of the query (IE the thing you are actually looking for) but more often than not, they get it wrong (which is why you get more entries about chicken then the surgeon general). Search engines have a hard time with descriptions, too. A ‘man who looks like a thing’ is the sort of thing that a search engine simply can’t handle. And finally, search engines can get easily confused in determining what pages to return that might contain an answer (Consider this post, for example, it has links to search engines, chicken jokes, and observations about grammar. If you had to quantify it by keywords, you’d end up with some mighty odd matches)

I say this because there has been a trend recently of creating “answer engines” – search engines that can understand your question and miraculously supply you with the answer. It started a few years ago with “ask Jeeves” (now part of ask.com) and had its latest arrivals in the much publicized Wolfarm Alpha and the bing “decision engine”. Sadly it seems that hype aside, there really is no noticable difference between a search engine and a answer engine, with the possible exception of Wolfarm – the first engine that has the desency to tell you when it doesn’t understand what you want.

I’m not faulting search engines developers, mind you. Understanding plain-English questions is a hugh and daunting task, and the field is really only init’s infancy. Search engines have gotten a lot better over the past few years, and will continue to improve (and users will continue to get better in searching, which is a different topic for a different day.) But we’re still far far away from the day when all the knowledge of the Internet is at our fingertips. Search engines can fill in many details, but they’re no replacment for a structured approche to learning,  no replacement for simple thirst for knowledge, and no good in trivia. At least, not yet.

Big Endian.

P.S.

For anyone who’s wondering, the answer is

C. Everett Koop

C. Everett Koop

a great name, if I ever heard one.