What do we mean?
Google announced this week the release of its Chrome operating system, paired with two new Chromebooks from Samsung and Acer. A “completely new model of computing”, Chrome OS is a cleverly extrapolated version of the existing Google Docs idea, with users accessing all basic computing applications online, together with their stored data: word-processing, spreadsheets, presentation and email software are operated through a web browser; whilst files, movies, music and photos are all stored in the cloud.
By building computers designed specifically for the online storage of both applications and data, Google hopes to fix what director of product management, Caesar Sengupta, regards as today’s “broken” world of computers. Gone will be the “outdated” requirements to update software and back up data; so too the fear of virus attack. We won’t even have to worry about transferring data and settings upon purchasing a new computer – we just boot up, log on to our account and we’re off and running again.
What do we think?
With cloud computing already gaining considerable momentum among both commercial and personal users, and high-speed internet connections becoming cheaper and more reliable, the idea of shifting the entire computing experience online makes a lot of sense.
We are particularly interested by the approach Google is taking in the United States to encourage the uptake of the Chromebooks, offering them on inexpensive phone-like contracts that include the hardware, technical support and warranty. Such an accessible financial arrangement confirms that more and more, the computer is becoming the principal portal through which we engage with the world. Like the mobile phone before it, we expect the Chromebook will come to be considered more a prosthesis than a mere tool.
Of concern to us however is the privatising implication of the Chromebook, an issue we have raised previously when discussing the expanding influence of companies like Google and Facebook into what we perhaps erroneously continue to think of as the public sphere of the internet. With the Chromebook, our aforementioned portal to the world would in many ways not be our own – our data and the applications we need to access it will be located on servers controlled by Google.
A symptom of this is online privacy, a controversial topic at the moment with big tech giants repeatedly featured in the news over breaches in the privacy of their users, slip-ups we argue would never be tolerated in our governments. Indeed, Facebook admitted just this morning to an attempted smear campaign against Google over the issue, first seen on The Age, here.
As a friend of ours reminded us recently, possession is nine tenths of the law. We remain unconvinced that big corporations controlling vast tracts of cyberspace is a good thing.