Google announced this week that it will roll out Chrome OS for Netbooks and Internet-connected computers in 2010. My reaction: Why not? I already rely on Google for much of my Internet experience (email, calendaring, search). Why not keep going? I suspect I will like Chrome OS if it does, in fact, allow me to get up and running to access my email, calendar, and other critical applications within two seconds, backs up everything, and is accessible from anywhere that I can get online. No doubt Google Chrome OS will help spawn many new application services from open source developers. So I like the idea that we'll all have additional software platforms that will become popular enough to spur more innovation from a broader community of developers.
However, I don't expect that I will be migrating to a solely Google OS. I typically switch among three operating systems in the course of a working day. I don't care about the operating systems I use unless they get in my way. I do care about the applications and services I use. And these are increasingly network-based application services with rich user interfaces.
Among the applications and services I use today, Google's services are useful and good enough to get the job done. Apple's user experience on both hand-held and Mac is satisfyingly seductive. Microsoft's user experience for browsing, search, and office applications is improving precisely because Google and Apple provide great alternatives. I find Mozilla Firefox productive and generally adopt many of its third party plug-ins. I use Adobe's Flash, Flex, and AIR on a daily basis without being aware of them as I hop from widget to applet. I happily use Ajax-style interactive tools because they give me quick ways to accomplish my tasks and to iterate among different choices.
What do I want out of an operating system? Invisibility, plug and play peripheral support, security, back-up, performance, and stability.
The Real Killer Service: Filing. But what I really need is a better cross-operating system file system. Today, every OS has its own. None of them is quite right. Do I trust Google to build a better file system? No. Google thinks that search is the best way to find anything. Those of us who want to be able to impose our own mental model on the messy reality that we swim in, need to be able to do more than search and tag. There's a human need to categorize, classify, and organize things, as well as a need to find the things that have been mis-categorized or mis-filed. My ideal filing system would turn successful search queries into dynamic file folders. But it would also allow me to set up and re-set up my electronic filing systems as my needs evolve over time. Each previous filing hierarchy would still be "there." But as I evolve my thinking and re-categorize things, they would "move" to the new, current categorization scheme.
My filing system is my database for keeping track of things. I want to organize things into hierarchical categories and subcategories and to search and sort based on attributes that emerge over time.
I suspect that Google's desire to provide an operating system is a Trojan Horse for Google's desire to store (and index) all of my files and everything that I have pointed to, tagged, or linked. If Google really wants to be the utility that I use to interact with the world, they should focus on helping me categorize and organize my stuff. But since Google doesn't believe in "putting" things in folders, and human beings like to organize their own desk drawers, file cabinets, folders, and stacks, in order to make sense of the world, I'm still looking for the killer app. And it’s not an operating system.