I was listening to one of my favorite technology web casts discussing Google's recent I/O conference and once again they came up with the same old, same old talking point -- why does Google have both ChromeOS and Android? Two operating systems, both built on the Linux kernel -- why do they need two?
Touch versus WIMPs
To me the answer is obvious: Android is for touch based devices, phones and tablets (and Fablets!) and ChromeOS is for traditional computers with keyboards and mice. Ahh, but as the contributors to said podcast noted -- the new Google Pixel Chromebook laptop has a touch screen! Et voila, obviously you don't need Chrome anymore, and they should port Android to laptops ... oh dear.
It's not quite that simple, is it? You may have a touch screen on your laptop, in fact I was using touch screen Panasonic Toughbooks running Windows 2000 Workstation years ago (quite a few years ago, obviously ...), but touch interfaces are not the ideal solution to every problem. Touch might work on your tablet and may look flashy in Minority Report, but I am sure as hell not typing this article on my Android tablet's on screen keyboard! Nope, I can still type considerably faster on the real physical keyboard of my iMac, as I suspect most people could.
Steve Job's famously noted that if everyone decided that they wanted touch interfaces on their desktops, then humans would soon develop arms like Gorillas!
Touch will undoubtedly spread; witness funny YouTube videos of small children trying to "swipe" pictures in glossy magazines. Touch is about as intuitive as you can get in many cases, but I don't think it's set to fully replace the Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointers that so many of us are used to.
I can see a world of hybrid input technologies, touch, keyboards and voice inputs -- utilizing the right technology and approach for the right task at the right time. Another techie podcast I listened to recently had panel members suggesting the desktop and laptop were dead and would be replaced within the enterprise by tablets very soon. Wow, I wish I worked where they do!
They might be right, as long as the tablet can dock, power a big screen and allow me to use a keyboard and some other pointing device. Certainly I currently un-dock my laptop and carry it to meetings, and I see many senior people bringing their own iPads (with external keyboards) to meetings. This of course brings us round to BYOD, security and the infrastructure required for ubiquitous wireless networking, encryption, remote wipe, etc.
So, as per usual, in my opinion there is no single approach, no one right answer. You use the right tool for the right job -- and if you do many jobs you might need multiple specialist tools. Which brings us right back to Google, ChromeOS and Android ...
Google for the Enterprise - Room for ChromeOS + Android!
Whether it's a US$ 249 Chromebook, or a US$ 1200 Pixel, or something in-between, ChromeOS is about simplification at the client end -- really, it's a thin client, and I am sure it must make Larry Ellison feel really good (and vindicated -- do you remember "the network IS the computer"?). For many business this will work just fine. How many of your apps are web front ended?
I really don't need a fully functioning Windows 7 or 8 laptop, MS Outlook and a full MS Office to do my job. I could get by with Google Apps/Docs or Office 365. Oracle apps, SharePoint, FileNet, Documentum, SalesForce, SAP, etc., etc., the list of applications I can access through a web browser without any client-server desktop apps goes on and on, and of course you don't need ChromeOS to do this, you could potentially use an Android device, but then we have come back full circle to using the right tool, that provides the best user experience, for the right job.
In the end, I don't see why people get so confused by Google maintaining two operating systems. Microsoft have tried to munge everything into one OS that runs everything from phones to high powered desktops -- mmmm, yeah "Metro" -- how's that working out for ya ...?
Whether it's your own private internal cloud, the public cloud and services that run in it, or some hybrid model, there are millions of corporate, enterprise worker bees out there who could manager their day to day tasks with a Chromebook just fine. Now if only Google would spend some of their gazillions of dollars on acquiring a services company that actually understands enterprise IT, then it might make some real inroads into businesses, and we could talk about more interesting aspects of their product offerings instead.
The Impact for Knowledge Management / Content Management Professionals
The impact of moving from say a traditional MS desktop infrastructure to some alternatives ChromeBooks should not be huge for people in our line of work. As alluded to above, we have been building web interfaces to enterprise software for a long time now, and browser interoperability has come a long way during that time. However if you have direct experience of such a move, please leave a comment and let us know.
Also, if you're using Gmail, Google Apps for Enterprise, a Chromebook or a Pixel, and Android tablet or phone for business use, drop us a line in the comments below and let us know how it's working out for you.
Title image courtesy of Sergey Nivens (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: Want more from Jed? Read his The Employee Digital Experience - The Need for a User Centric Workplace