Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chromium Takes Big Steps

First I want to apologize for my lack of activity here on TechLayers. Senior year has been rough so far and I have been struggling to keep up with both assignments and college applications. However, I have recently caught up on a lot of work so I should be able to improve my posting routine in the near future. Anyway, on to the post!

In what seems like a larger than life announcement, Google has declared a number of big steps forward in the development of both Google Chrome, Google's flagship browser, and Google Chrome OS, the cloud-based operating system that has been in almost secretive development for quite a while now. The post released information on updates in Google Chrome, the official opening of the Chrome Web Store, and an updated status of Chrome OS.

Probably the most significant achievement concerning Google Chrome is its usage. More than 120 million users are now using Chrome, up from 70 million as previously reported. This significant increase in usage shows that many users are switching over from Internet Explorer and Firefox to use Google's lightning fast browser that incorporates a number of features that other browsers still seem to be lacking. While Firefox still has an edge on diversity of extensions (though that gap is closing quickly), Chrome is overall a more secure and faster browser due to its V8 JavaScript engine and tab sandboxing. The latest updates to Chrome, which can be accessed through the Canary build channel, include instant page loading as you type in the address bar as well as an overhaul of V8.

Also announced was the opening of the Chrome Web Store. Previously "apps" have found their domain on smart phones and other mobile devices. The concept of the "app", which has come to be loosely defined as a software application with an intuitive user interface that is easily accessible via some type of icon or launcher, originated on mobile devices most likely because the limited display and interface required a simpler than usual UX to help consumers use the device without much trouble or difficulty. With the Chrome Web Store, that idea of the install and play app has spread to the desktop computer, specifically the browser. A first look of the store shows a standard extension installation interface with categories on the left and whatnot. Each application can be installed by clicking one button, and then confirming the installation when Chrome prompts. The store already has seemingly hundreds of apps ranging from Tweetdeck for social networking to Sounds Around Town, a Sesame Street-based toddler game. A lot of the apps are simply web pages packaged into an app, meaning when you launch the app it just brings you to the web page. While this may seem pointless to put something already readily accessible into an app, the transformation from URL to installable app is big in terms of user interface. Rather than typing in the address or opening a bookmark, the site becomes an icon alongside the rest of the apps, making it even easier to access and use than ever before. It is really the concept of an "app" more than anything else that makes this idea of apps on the desktop so revolutionary. Other apps are more complex and are somewhat like extensions in that static web pages are downloaded to the Chrome browser.

What the Chrome Web Store really is going to have an effect on, though, is the whole cloud computing movement that Google has been so focused on in essentially all of its products and services. More people are moving online and more people are going mobile. We no longer live in a world where the base station is your only station. We start at home on our laptop or desktop, move to mobile during the commute, log on to another laptop or desktop during the day, maybe use a public computer or a friend's computer at some point, all to return to home. And for this routine to be productive, there needs to be a link between all of our stations, all of our portals to the world. That's where Google comes in. The Chrome Web Store takes that firs step in linking our computers by allowing apps, extensions, themes, and personal settings to be synced wherever Chrome resides. Pushing our information and data to the cloud provides a central point to which everything else can attach to. With the new app store pen, i think we can expect to see a big spike in cloud computing and mobile applications (as well as Chrome usage).

The other big announcement Google made was the Chrome Notebook pilot program.  After a year or so of development, Google says it's ready to get some feedback on Chrome OS. Currently they have a signup form for users who wish to become pilot users and test Chrome OS on an actual notebook installation. This has been one of the biggest steps by Google in terms of getting Chrome OS out there and actually moving it to the public realm. Google also says that Chrome notebooks will be available next year for sale by Samsung and Acer. Chrome OS paired with the Chrome Web Store will make the cloud computing movement impossible to stop, if it has not already reached that point already.

The big features of Chrome OS as advertise by Google are speed, sync, and security. Since Chrome OS is only a web browser with a few necessary additions, it is only natural that speed with increase significantly over a traditional notebook, which runs many other programs and background processes. This is especially true since Chrome has process sandboxing and other features that allow it to speed past other browsers. Sync is obvious as that is the core point around which Chrome OS is made: pushing computing into the cloud completely. Your entire experience on a Chrome Notebook is on the cloud, from your settings and bookmarks to apps and extensions. If your Chrome Notebook were to be completely destroyed in some horrific accident, simply logging onto another computer would restore all your data and settings. And last but not least comes security. Again, sandboxing helps to promote security in the browser by separating each tab into its own sort of domain. However, Google tauts a number of other features that also make the Chrome Notebook more secure than your standard computer. For starters, Verified Boot tests to see if you computer has been tampered with, and immediately restores from a backup if it has been. Chrome OS also has a "guest mode", friends and other users can browse in incognito mode without having access to your email and other private information.

I wish Google luck on their journey into the cloud, and I hope there are many willing to follow that path to what seems like a more productive and secure world. (I also hope they pick me for the pilot program so I can see first hand what is in store for us next year.) The future is here, and it is in the cloud.

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