Knee-jerk reaction? You don’t need either of these things.
Now that I’ve got all the Google fanboys riled up, let me explain: I’m a Google fanboy too, and even I can see flaws that not many people are mentioning. Like a lot of people, I spent a bit of time since the launch event on Thursday reading the coverage of Chrome OS (Start with Matt Cutts Live Blogging the Google Chrome OS Event and move on from there; Matt knows his stuff, naturally) because it looked a lot more interesting than anything I’d seen in a while. Now, however, I’m not so sure. Back up the hate train, let me explain.
Chrome OS is big news. It’s the first major foray of a company like Google into the nitty gritty of running machines from the ground up; and it’s a neat idea, too. But I think a lot of people will miss the point of the OS, because it’s not really an OS at all. Chrome is a whole-machine browser, it powers everything. It’s intended for netbooks, which already run a plethora of other systems – but it has a twist. Being entirely reliant on the internet connection of the machine for its operation means no localised Office applications, no installation of programs and, unless I’ve missed a step, no real worthwhile offline use of the computer. This is a big deal because it’s where a lot of people will miss the thrust of the program; connection connection connection. Off the grid does not apply, which means a netbook running Chrome OS is closer to being a smartphone with beef than it is actually being what is currently thought of as a netbook. Now, since manufacturers like HP are putting out machines with cellular 3G connectivity built-in, by the time Chrome OS sees mass market, this may be less of a big deal. Imagine linking a bluetooth headset to your netbook and leaving a VOIP program like Google Voice or Skype on while you’re on commute; you’re set for calls, you have the net even outside of WiFi zones, it could be a good thing. But that’s the sticker; could, and only if Google is very careful how it positions this program beyond being the new shiny toy gun.
Google Wave is, perhaps, the biggest let-down I’ve seen from El Goog yet. At least, that’s my first reaction having used it with all three people I invited during the first week. It comes across as a replacement for email, but it’s so stripped down and feature-free, and doesn’t yet integrate with anything other than itself. On its face, it looks like a failure – but… But I can’t help but think it’ll find its own as the beta continues. The power of Wave comes not from its half-email, half-instant messaging roots, but from the real root of being collaborative, real-time document management. Imagine running a Webinar through an extension, and having notes appear in real time, accessible for all after the event. Imagine being at a conference, once the mobile apps come out, and getting in on Waves for panels, having your questions vetted, detailed and even answered in extremes by side-panelists as well as the main event panel. Imagine using Wave internally with your business to run detail management across departments, keep everyone on track with more accuracy and detail than email ever could. The problem I have with Wave so far is that there’s no critical mass. It’s still too new, still untested in real situations, by usual people, thinking up interesting ways to access information in a now manner.
The future is going to be shaky, regarding these applications, unless people start brewing their own ways to use the interfaces provided to them. Chrome OS and Wave, put side by side, don’t look like much – but they’ll get better. I think there’s a long way to go before we’re at the stage where we can actually call these things ready for mass consumption, but that’s the beauty of how such public betas work. Input, bug hunts, change. GMail, for one, has certainly changed since the early beta days, much to our joy. We’ll have to give Chrome and Wave a chance to do the same thing. But in order for that to happen, we’ve got to get the critical mass building, so that the responses can come in.
Opting out of early previews for software is like waiting for service packs to be released before diving in on an upgrade. If no one dives in, there’s no live-situational response, and no service pack is worth delivering. Get in there, figure it out, then yack about how it rocks or blows. But be there to watch the change and don’t write either of these systems off as dead before they even get off the ground.