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A Less Personal Computer

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Google Chrome

Jason Schneider

In Web parlance, "chrome" is the part of the browser that surrounds the page: the address bar, the "Back" button, and those all-important bookmarks. Chrome is also the name of the Web browser that Google introduced back in September 2008, and--adding to the confusion--Chrome OS is the name of a new operating system that Google announced in July 2009 and expects to ship later this year.

The naming scheme is no accident. It reflects Google's ambition to create an operating system that is all but indistinguishable from the browser. Gone will be the normal files, directories, and applications. Instead, Chrome OS will put Google's cloud computing infrastructure--services and applications delivered over the Internet from its vast array of servers--at the heart of practically everything you do. Within a few years, Chrome OS could become the planet's simplest, fastest, and safest environment for personal computing. But there's a catch: it will also make Google the gatekeeper of your personal information. It could let Google delve further into your data to make its online advertising business more profitable than ever.

Chrome OS represents a radical new direction for computers. Today's major operating systems--Windows, Mac OS, and Linux--are all based on the 1980s model of the workstation. They're designed to run on powerful hardware, storing all the user's data and programs on a nearby hard drive. Even the Web, as invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, was merely an extension of this computing model--a better tool for finding data on the network and bringing it to your computer. But people don't use their computers that way anymore. At least, not people running popular Internet applications like Facebook, Gmail, and YouTube. When you use these applications, your data is stored in some distant data center--it's crunched in the cloud, and only copied to your computer for viewing.

From Technology Review
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