Sunday, February 26, 2012

Google OS Present and Future thoughts

Google OS Present and Future thoughts

In the last five years there has been a revolution in the way people interact with technology. Society is no longer chained to a mouse and a keyboard, now the touchscreen device is ubiquitous and mobile has become the center of our digital lives. Before January 9, 2007 we were using a laptop or desktop and a cellphone that in some cases had access to email and a rudimentary mobile Internet. With the launch of the iPhone we started an era in computing that has redefined our ideas regarding the types of technology we use in our daily lives. With the introduction of three devices, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, Apple with Steve Jobs at the helm ushered in the post-PC era of today. While Apple brought smart phones, tablets and multimedia devices to the masses it is Google that has taken these devices to the next level. Google has done its part to usher in this post-PC era of today in large part with its Android operating system (OS) and to a much lesser extent it’s ChromeOS.

As far as Android is concerned I am a die hard fan, my Galaxy Nexus is my most prized possession at the moment with my Xoom being a close second. I love being able to access my email, calendar, social networking sites, tasks, full web experience, IM and text as well as the occasional phone call. I am a very big proponent of using as many of Google’s cloud services so that I can access everything I need from any internet connected device (I don’t even have to email documents to myself anymore).  I currently use Gmail for email, Google Talk for IM, Google Docs in place of Office, Google Calendar for all my time management, Google Chrome for web browsing (across all devices thanks to Chrome Beta for Android), Google+ backs up any pictures I take with my phone (as well as keeping up to date with some friends and well respected tech people). In short I can access most of my life from anywhere.

As much as I love Android there are times that you can feel that it is limited by being a mobile OS. Sometimes websites won’t show full desktop versions without specific prompting, sometimes you get ugly web apps when you want to use services that you are used to using on your desktop or laptop and worst of all is substandard video playback. The shortcomings are somewhat understandable when using a mobile phone due to power and data savings, however when using a device such as a tablet where full usability is a necessity this OS becomes slightly painful and makes me yearn for my laptop even though it is running Windows XP and is painfully slow (and more recently Ubuntu, which is delightful).

Enter ChromeOS, the operating system in a browser. With the surge of netbooks in recent years Google saw an opportunity to create a lightweight OS to run on low powered machines such as these. Google discovered that when people turned on their computers the main reason they do so is to access the web and they wanted that access to be fast so they set their sights on their own home brewed browsing solution. The Chrome browser has been my main browser ever since I heard about it many years ago and I love the speed and stability it gives me along with integration with my Google life. In addition to the browsing capabilities of Chrome it also offers the ability to offer “extensions” which are programs that you can run within the browser itself. Already having a web browser that allowed for programs to reside within Google decided that they were in the position to offer a unique OS solution for easy access to the internet with a lightweight platform. I was able to install a version of the ChromeOS (known as ChromiumOS when compiled from a non-Google source) and used it for a few weeks and found it to be exactly as advertised, a browser. The ChromeOS feels as though it is not complete as there is no desktop environment and other items usually found in an operating system are behind the scenes or not present at all. 

In my opinion neither of these operating systems offers a fully functional replacement for Windows, OSX or a Linux distro. The power of Android is immense and is the best mobile solution on the market whereas ChromeOS is extremely lightweight and offers a desktop like solution to computing on the go. 

What I would like to see from Google in the future is an integrated solution that allows me to flow from one device to the next while offering full desktop functionality when I need it. I would like to see a desktop similar to Ubuntu with the ability to customize anything you want and gives access to all Google products as apps once you sign in just like Android. I would like a desktop with access to all file systems and a terminal and full web browsing experience like the desktop version of Chrome. A search of images gave me this mock up from deviantart that I believe would be a good initial visual cue for the direction of this new desktop OS.

The evolution of our relationship with our technology leads me to believe that an all around solution that merges mobile and personal computing is just around the corner. The company that is currently closest to this new paradigm is Apple with their new Mountain Lion version of OSX integrating many parts of iOS into the desktop in allowing many services from their mobile platform to be accessible in the desktop environment. Google needs to follow this lead and create a more robust user environment to keep the end user deeply involved in the Google lifestyle. 

Cell phone specs are starting to converge with the power we are used to seeing with our laptops and desktops. Canonical has taken the Motorola webtop idea to the next level with creating a version of Ubuntu that works with Android on the same device switching between the two when the device is docked. This new paradigm sounds amazing if the power behind the device can keep up. I do think it would be a great solution in a pinch however I would still like to have a separate device for serious work and gaming at this point. I guess we will have to wait to see what happens in the coming months with rumours starting to swirl around the next Android release possibly titled "Jelly Bean."