Chrome OS – Lost in the cloud?

Everything we already do

At the commercial level, the attractions of computing across the web are transparent, and bring many theoretical and practical advantages. When so many organisations are dispersed across national and international borders and so many personnel are on the move or working from home why not farm out at least some of your data and processing needs to a third party, and access everything across the net using mobile phones, mobile computers, or other gizmos?

Your data will be protected by passwords, just as it is within the local network, and can be encrypted across the net. Your processing can be done by centralised or third-party virtualised computer farms, maximising the use of processor power, and massively reducing the carbon footprint of both the organisation and the wider community and money that is otherwise spent on hardware, up-keep and maintenance, idle time, unused processing and storage capacity, security concerns, energy bills, upgrades, cooling and personnel, can be put to better use elsewhere.

You don't need the big hardware as long as you have access to the network, and a device to speak to it. You can access the data you need from any place at any time. Your costs are slashed, and you only pay for what you need. Your data is kept in one place, tight and secure, and is no longer your responsibility or problem. Your data, your applications, your server, are available when you need them, without infrastructure or capital constraints.

Computing on the web can give access to compute power that wouldn't otherwise be available, and can be seen as the logical conclusion of many other comfortable and fluffy concepts of the last few years, but not everybody is happy with this latest synthesis.

Oracle's Larry Ellison, for instance, concludes: "The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we've redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do," and makes the scathing assessment that "the computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women's fashion. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It's complete gibberish. It's insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?"

More pertinently, Richard Stallman, the founder of the free software movement, raises the vexatious issue of privacy. "One reason you should not use web applications to do your computing is that you lose control," he told the Guardian. "It's just as bad as using a proprietary program. Do your own computing on your own computer with your copy of a freedom-respecting program. If you use a proprietary program or somebody else's web server, you're defenceless. You're putty in the hands of whoever developed that software."

Huff and puff

Chrome OS is not a "make or break" for Linux on the desktop, or even an attempt to break into the desktop market but a proof of concept for computing on the web.

Google's uphill task is to convince us that computing on the web is not just tenable, but also safe and reliable. Some users are happy to put their simple tasks on the web with GMail and Google Docs. Many users have very little other requirement of their computers. But any task that is put on the web is subject to the vagaries of web security.