Jul 28, 2009
Most people don't even know what an Operating System (OS) is - will they care about Chrome, even if it is Open Source?
Often I'm asked by friends with little knowledge of the world of computers to recommend a laptop or desktop machine for their home use. Although I'm still a fan of Linux, these days I nearly always suggest that they pick the Mac they most like the look of. A long string of questions and answers then ensues. Generally the enquirer's husband/mother/friend/uncle will have suggested some brand of PC running the latest incarnation of Windows, so my suggestion can come as a bit of a shock. Why would someone that appears to know what they're talking about even think about suggesting a computer that doesn't run the the programs that Auntie Betty's machine can?
It's into this world that Google Chrome has burst on the scene. Its tantalising open source goodness means that all us techies are itching to try it out, but does Auntie Betty want to use it? Will she even notice it?
In recent times the "netbook" has become a bit of a breakaway from the general home computing scene - often these things (generally the cheaper ones) are powered by alternative OSes (usually a shade of Linux). Strangely non-windows netbooks do sell, sometimes to ordinary people. When I went into the shop to buy one for my daughter I was summarily informed that I didn't want one of these because it didn't run Windows. When I retorted that this was one of its major selling points, I got a strange look as if to say that I know nothing about these things.
Maybe I do know nothing about what the average person wants. Maybe the ideal world would be one where everyone runs Microsoft and we all share the same viruses, sorry, I mean "binary compatible code". Probably when the ChromeOS netbooks appear the salesman I enountered will still try to push buyers onto a more expensive machine with "better compatibility".
Sadly, for all us geeks out there, this is where marketing can do what years of volunteer effort has failed to do - package up the advantages of open source for the uninformed user and gain market share in the face of a competitor who starts with a huge advantage.
After the launch of Android, Google should have a fair idea whether or not Auntie Betty will be getting a ChromeOS machine next and whether she will like it. I hope for her sake, and everyone else's, that they get it right.