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Google Cloud Client Almost Here

Chrome OS-based Netbook May Not Be What You Think It Is

The rumors are approaching consensus that a pair of new netbooks running the Google Chrome OS may/will be available early in the New Year.  The details of the specs and marketing plans are still a bit vague, but we do know that they will run the Chrome OS, which is best imagined as the Chrome web browser and the Linux operating system grafted together.

We think that they will be called "Smartbooks".  We have a persistent, unconfirmed notion that they will be Google-branded.  And, we suppose that Google may sell them directly, possibly supplemented by other channels.  After the Google Nexus One smartphone fiasco, though, the odds of Google branding and selling them directly are far from certain.

If you believe a lot of what has been written so far, you might think that Smartbook is a misnomer.  Much of the reporting about the Google netbooks refers to them as "web-only" devices, which, depending on how that phrase is defined, is either misleading or just plain wrong.

Contrary to many reports, though, the Smartbooks will in fact be able to store and run off-line applications.  However, they will not persistently store data locally on the device; they will cache it locally for off-line use and store it permanently in the Google cloud.  So, a more accurate descriptor might be, "web-intrinsic".  They can do useful work without a broadband connection, but, for most purposes, they also assume that the web is never very far away.

There are three distinct forms of software that users will be able to run on the Google Smartbook: Extensions, Hosted Apps and Packaged Apps.  All three, in addition to Themes (aka "skins"), will be made available to users through the Chrome Web Store, which will obviously need to launch at the same time as the Smartbooks, whenever that ends up being.

"Extensions" are software that extends the functionality of the Google Chrome web browser and the websites being viewed in it.  Addressing software developers, Google defines extensions like this:

"An extension is a zipped bundle of files - HTML, CSS, JavaScript, images, and anything else you need - that adds functionality to the Google Chrome browser. Extensions are essentially web pages, and they can use all the APIs that the browser provides to web pages, from XMLHttpRequest to JSON to HTML5."

As for applications, Google is making a strong effort to foster the term and concept of "installable web apps" to serve as the rubric above the aforementioned "hosted" and "packaged" variants.  Again addressing programmers, Google provides this explanation:

"Many installable web apps are hosted apps-normal websites with a bit of extra metadata. You can build and deploy hosted apps exactly as you would build and deploy any web app, using any server-side or client-side technologies you like. The only difference is that you must provide a small manifest file that describes the app.

"If you want your app to work especially well offline or to be tightly integrated with the Google Chrome browser, you can create a packaged app. A packaged app is just a web app that the user downloads. Packaged apps have the option of using the Google Chrome Extension APIs, allowing packaged apps to change the way Google Chrome behaves or looks."

As mentioned earlier, the installable web apps, plus extensions and themes for the Chrome browser, will be made available through the Chrome Web Store, which has also been the subject of much misguided speculation and incorrect reporting which have served to underrate its significances.  In the absence of confirmed details, many have assumed that it would be just like the Apple App Store and Android Market, each of which only offers apps that are device-specific.  But, that is not the case.

The apps available in the Chrome Web Store are not Chrome OS device-specific at all.  While the browser themes and extensions also available there will be specific to the Chrome web browser, the installable web apps will run on any web-connectible device, in virtually all current web browsers, as stated in the Chrome Web Store FAQ:

"Does this only work in Google Chrome?

"Because web apps listed in the Chrome Web Store are regular web applications, built with standard web tools, they can be used by anyone using a modern browser that supports these web technologies. Users accessing the Chrome Web Store through Google Chrome will have the ability to create convenient shortcuts for easily accessing their apps.

"Are applications in the Chrome Web Store different from other web apps?

"No. Web apps listed in the Chrome Web Store are regular web applications that are built with standard web tools and technologies. The same web applications will run in other modern browsers that support these technologies.

"What's the advantage of ‘installing' an app from Chrome Web Store?

"When Google Chrome users "install" a web application from the store, a convenient shortcut is added for quickly accessing the app. Installed web apps can also request advanced HTML5 permissions."

Bad marketing begets incorrect reporting, and Google is about the worst marketer there is.  So it is understandable how so many people are so confused about what they are up to with Chrome - the OS and the browser (see!) - and the Smartbook.  But, maybe Google likes it that way.  Keep everybody, especially Microsoft and Apple, guessing and then do what you are going to do and allow the gravity of your mass to pull everything into its rightful place.  That's not a bad strategy, if you can pull it off.  It does seem to be working for them with Android, which is now smoking Apple's smartphone market share.

But, what is the Google end game here?  It is said, "Content is king."  I think that apps are the new "content" and that Google wants to do what they have always done so successfully - monetize the processes of finding, acquiring and consuming content, which will now include installable web apps from the Chrome Web Store.  But, I could be wrong.  Maybe they really do want to be in the netbook business as many others seem to think.

 

More Stories By Tim Negris

Tim Negris is SVP, Marketing & Sales at Yottamine Analytics, a pioneering Big Data machine learning software company. He occasionally authors software industry news analysis and insights on Ulitzer.com, is a 25-year technology industry veteran with expertise in software development, database, networking, social media, cloud computing, mobile apps, analytics, and other enabling technologies.

He is recognized for ability to rapidly translate complex technical information and concepts into compelling, actionable knowledge. He is also widely credited with coining the term and co-developing the concept of the “Thin Client” computing model while working for Larry Ellison in the early days of Oracle.

Tim has also held a variety of executive and consulting roles in a numerous start-ups, and several established companies, including Sybase, Oracle, HP, Dell, and IBM. He is a frequent contributor to a number of publications and sites, focusing on technologies and their applications, and has written a number of advanced software applications for social media, video streaming, and music education.

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