Chrome OS and the web as applications

It’s not a Google strategy, but they’ve chosen to embrace and extend it: the web is turning into an application platform.

Google announced Chrome OS today – an operating system for netbooks, designed to boot up in seconds directly to a browser. Applications run using HTML 5 standards, which include support for offline applications and advanced interface capabilities.

More than that, it’s an attack – not just on Microsoft, but on the old model for operating systems and home computing. The web allows greater ease of use (no application installs!), lower resource requirements (perfect for those netbook CPUs) and instant connectivity. Social functionality becomes intrinsic to all software on the platform, rather than a product in itself. See Building the User-Centered Web for a detailed analysis of how software will change, and why.

Of course, if this revolution happens through Google Apps (or applications hosted on the Google App Engine), running Google advertising and saving to a central Google Account, well, they’ll just have to live with it. I’ve argued before that Google Wave is a Sharepoint killer, but this move makes that positioning explicit; Google is set to directly take on Microsoft. By making the operating system open source, they’ve invited everyone to join in.

It’ll be an interesting battle: while Windows 7 won’t ship with a browser in Europe, Chrome OS is all browser. More broadly, web applications could help with much-needed cost cutting in places like schools and public institutions, so there’s a lot at stake here.

As regular readers will know, I’m very interested in this change, and I plan on getting my hands dirty helping to build a decentralized user-centered web that, like the web at large, is owned by nobody. There’s still more to be done. Watch this space.

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