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November 20, 2009

The Chrome OS Release Is Not About Now, It's About Next.

Yesterday, as most tech outlets noted, Google previewed their much-awaited Chrome Operating System - and in parallel released the code for the operating system to the open source community. By the end of the day, sites like Gdgt had compiled virtual machine capable installs of the early alpha system, and geeks, including me, were tinkering with the system. Unsurprisingly, there were near-immediate reviews, and some calling the news a disappointment. But for me, the news was not so much about Chrome OS being ready to go, but instead Google delivering on a promise, and showing its cards, before they had to, to let us know what's progressing in Mountain View.

Google's success and growth over the last decade has not been without its detractors. The company, which could once simply be described as a search engine, now has its reach in a dramatic number of Web applications and services. I tend to be rosy on the company's expansion, and even asked last month if it was at this point possible for somebody to use Google software exclusively and not lose functionality.

Google's preview of the Chrome OS was more than a product release. It was a milestone in a vision of a Web-centric world, one in which we are increasingly living. For the vast majority of my own activity, I am online, not using software. I intentionally use some applications, like Microsoft's Office suite or Adobe Photoshop, quickly, and then close them just as quickly, as to not slow down my computer's performance. Google's Chrome OS is the latest development in a vision that says our activity will be online, our data will be stored in the cloud, and applications that have traditionally been desktop software will make their way online.

Under no uncertain terms, I agree with their vision. This is happening and it is happening fast.

When I booted up VMware Fusion last night, and turned on the Google Chrome OS for the first time, it didn't come with an instruction manual, asking me only for my login and password - which corresponded with my GMail account. Logging in took me to the now-familiar Chrome browser, the starting point for the next generation of computing. While today, the experience is not dramatic, thanks to us already being familiar with their browser on Macs and PCs, it was a checkpoint that this was real and happening. There was no way to move the browser off screen and get to the equivalent of a desktop, for it didn't exist. There was no C: drive or System folder. Just the browser and an infinite Web that is capable of taking me anywhere.

So with due respect to my good friend Jason Kaneshiro, who writes: Google Chrome OS: I Don’t Get It and ReadWriteWeb's Sarah Perez, who asks Was Chrome OS a Disappointment?, the main concerns I have seen voiced around limitations on what the OS can or cannot do are much like the concerns people had when the first-generation iMac shipped without a floppy disk drive and ditched Apple's proprietary cables for the new Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard.

Google promised us a new operating system built on the Chrome Web browser. They delivered. They gave us more information yesterday showing that they were working on it. They immediately gave back to the open source community and gave us a way to start tinkering. This is not a situation of ditching the Mac or a Windows 7 machine today, but instead, about pushing us forward to a new reality. If we choose to stay in one place clinging to our old ideas, we will only get further behind.