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A few short years ago, if you were to ask me if I thought Google's Chrome OS would compete with the likes of Apple and Microsoft for traditional desktop OS market share, I would have downplayed the search giant's efforts like anyone else. Chrome OS, which is essentially Google's "the OS is the Web browser" vision, seemed just a little too far out there at the time. Most chalked it up as another one of the company's experiments, which as we all know often end up as a footnote in Wikipedia. However, like so many other successful Google ventures, oftentimes it's the projects that lay low for a year or two that really take off.
After the initial fanfare and buzz around Google's first Chromebook, the Cr-48, word got out that Chrome OS was exactly what most expected it to be: limited. Interest plummeted, and very little new hardware was released for a good period of time.
All the while, Google has been on the move. The company has been doing what it does better than any software company on earth: iterate, and rapidly too, delivering new features and functionality on a regular basis. Some of that is at the OS level, but a great deal is in the online services that support it. Heck, with smartphones and tablets exploding, the entire Internet is transforming into a service that, for many, turns all traditional operating systems into thin clients.
It's just like Android all over again, which is another OS Google makes that now powers a huge share of mobile devices, and is creeping into the very same space in which Google is trying to position Chrome OS (yes, Google is so big it now competes with itself). The early iterations of Android were terrible, and T-Mobile's G1 was the only Android device available in North America for nearly a year.
So what did Google do? It iterated. In a five-year time frame there have been 12 or more major iterations of Android, with bugs fixed and loads of new features added. Today, there are more models of Android-powered smartphones than there are people on this planet.
Like Android, hardware makers are starting to bring more and more Chrome OS-powered notebooks to market, mostly in the low-cost price range. Resellers have taken notice that low cost and limited functionality make a lot of sense for certain verticals, with education the largest target market right now. Google Apps + Chrome OS meets the needs of most students, and even some SMBs. But you have to know your customers, their business, and how they operate if you're going to propose Chromebooks as a solution.
You also have to know Chromebooks' limitations. Even today, as rich as some Web applications are, relying solely on the cloud for all your computing needs doesn't exactly make for the most rewarding and flexible experience.
Chrome OS is still limited, yet those limitations are dwindling by the day. Invasion by iteration-that should be Google's new slogan.
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Or fired from work. Or thrown out of school. Or prompt an extra-intimate patdown from the TSA.