The use of browsers as an operating system has gained traction and likely will continue to do so. The Chromebooks use Google Chrome as the operating system as the biggest wide release test of the theory. This phenomenon is made more possible by the push toward cloud everything in computing.
Having used the Chrome OS I would have to maintain it is still a browser, not an operating system. It may perform the functions an OS have to do in a computer to make it function but it falls far short of what an OS can do in terms of enhancing productivity.
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Pushing the drive towards the ‘light’ operating systems is the mobile craze. Smaller designs call for lower watt processors and chipsets to reduce the need for cooling. Heat sinks and fans are simply too big. Along with the lower wattage comes reduced capability. This may change as the Intel Haswell micro architecture is released beginning in June giving lower watt processors purportedly better processing capability but that is something to be seen in the real world instead of the Lab to decide.
Why the big push to ultra-mobile? It would depend on who you ask. The manufacturers all claim it is public demand and that is why. Obviously the tablets are selling well and no denying the popularity and utility of a smart phone. It is still very questionable however when you look at what is used for productivity.
When it comes down to actually doing work, everybody from student to professional reaches for a laptop or sits in front of a desk top. The tablets and smartphones are great for small applications to ‘enhance productivity’ but I did not pull out my phone to type this.
The 2 items most commonly purchased with a tablet such as the iPad are a hard case and cover stand and a keyboard. This would appear ample evidence that as much as manufacturers are telling us we want small and mobile we happily add weight and size to enhance usability.
The push for browsers to become operating systems is not coming from the public. It is coming from web browsers that make incredibly large sums of money by providing advertising along with your internet usage. The popularity of smartphones and tablets simply gave a method for the manufacturer to introduce people to the lite OS concept so it does not seem so foreign when you see it on a computer.
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The cost factors are real but skewed. The Chromebooks look like notebook computers, we are told that tablets can do everything a computer will do and that our smartphones are having a computer in our pocket. None of that can be called a lie per se.
The lower cost is a lie in actuality. They cost the consumer less but that is because many of them are heavily subsidized. Much like Microsoft loses money on every Xbox and Sony on every PS3 they sell – it is the manufacturer giving price supports to make more money in a different way. It seems they are willing to subsidize the cost of a ‘computer’ that can be used primarily in a way that produces advertising revenue but not if it can run actual software of the consumers choice.
If you are looking to browse the internet, read and type an email, or watch a video then the browser based operating systems will be adequate and take advantage of the price supports. That is the biggest use of computers during non-work hours anyway. If you are looking for a computer to process files and data, do serious graphics or photo processing, or even to have decent performance working with spread sheets and publish programs get a computer with a full operating system.