October 14, 2014

Computing from a browser's point of view

ChromeOS is starting to grow on me. Though it does not have the makings of a traditional desktop system, it is quite amusing to use. I have read and heard lot of news surrounding google's browser OS system, though never used it. To my surprise, I spotted the system being used at a near-by town library.

Time for an adventure. I did not plan on spending much time on the machines, just testing. Perhaps is does have a hypnotic effect; whenever I travel to the library, I would pray a few systems were available.

Just a reminder, ChromeOS is a browser-based operating system, designed by google, that uses a web browser as the user interface to access only the internet and take advantage of web apps. The applications used on this OS are provided through a browser or from the google playstore. Imagine a general purpose desktop with only a web browser installed. The activities common to a desktop are now executed in your browser.

When I booted one of the systems, I was presented with a sign-in screen. Once signed in, the chrome browser automatically executes. Closing the browser signs you out of the session.

The system had a launcher panel with the most used web applications, chrome, gmail, google drive, and youtube. Clicking any one of these launchers opens itself in a new browser tab. You can also change the position of the web apps by clicking and holding one of the apps and drag them to a new location on the panel. At the beginning of the panel is a start-menu button. It lists all the installed web apps with a few other programs like a file browser, a google search app, and google's playstore, like the ones installed on an android device.

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What really caught my eye was the size of the computer hardware ChromeOS was installed on. All I saw was a small, black box-shape device. It was small enough to fit in your pocket. It was manufactured by Asus and only used USB ports for  device integration. Even the monitor was connected via a USB.

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If your most important apps could be accessed via a browser, then your computer would be nothing more than an Internet terminal. You might even call your web browser a graphical command-line interface that allows you to click commands rather than typing them.

Cloud computing is accessing computer services from the Internet through a browser. A type of computer service accessed from a browser is known as SaaS(software as a service). Rather than installing software on your local computer, it is accessed only from a browser. Actually one of the early forms of browser-based software was the web-based email client. Never thought gmail and yahoo would have siblings. The software can either be accessed freely or with a cost. For computer services that require cost, check out AWS(Amazon Web services) http://aws.amazon.com/, or the open source cloud operating system “Openstack” http://www.openstack.org/software/.

I like to have the best of both worlds; own a traditional desktop and have it take advantage of web-based computing. When online, I utilize the web apps. Offline, my locally installed applications keeps me productive.

ChromeOS is a system that takes advantage of SaaS. It is also straight forward. If you spend most of your computer activities on the Internet, no need for a full blown desktop system. You just need something electronic that has an Internet browser.

“As people use more and more web applications, the operating system becomes less important and it makes no sense to pay for it. The desktop mail client could be replaced by Gmail, the calendaring application could be replaced by Google Calendar, the office suite has lightweight alternatives: Google Docs and Zoho, it makes more sense to use an online feed reader like Google Reader, your scientific calculator is less powerful than Wolfram Alpha and you'll rarely need a video player when you have YouTube, Hulu and other video sites” (Alex Chitu)

(AlexChitu , http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2009/07/google-chrome-operating-system.html)

This quote came from a blog written about chromeOS back in July of 2009 by Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai:

“Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We're designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don't have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work. Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform” (Sundar Pichai)

(Sundar Pichai, http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/introducing-google-chrome-os.html)

Google is very innovative and very proactive. There is something working behind the scenes that inspired such developments like ChromeOS, AWS and Openstack. Perhaps, what we are starting to see is a new operating system in its infant stages, the browser. I have used some open source browsers that act like file managers when installed on a GNU/Linux operating system. From that browser, you can get a view of everything stored on your hard drive.

Cloud computing is still growing but gaining lots of interest. It is great to have access to the latest technology. Yet it is a must to learn how and why the technology was invented. Then look where it is going. There has been talk about an Internet based operating system in the past. I was trying to imagine what that would look like. Perhaps I don’t have to imagine anymore.

References:

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/introducing-google-chrome-os.html

http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2009/07/google-chrome-operating-system.html

http://static.highspeedbackbone.net/pdf/Chrome%20OS%20User%20Guide.pdf

 

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