Google, the continually expanding and hugely innovative company made famous by its eponymous search engine, the Android operating system and everything in-between, have recently unveiled and began promotion for their long awaited and very exciting spin on the netbook formula; the Chromebook. Some of the game changing features it boasts are an entirely browser-based OS, exclusively cloud-based data storage, and a revolution in the way web-apps are distributed are used.
Those are the facts. From this point on all information is based on reasoning and speculation that, while sound, is unlikely to make me (or indeed this site) any friends among supporters of Google.
Science-fiction writer, programmer and intellect Neal Stephenson described in his book; “In The Beginning… Was The Command Line”, the gradual, but nonetheless drastic simplification of computers and particularly their methods of use over time. At the time of his writing, the simplification in question was the universal shift from terminal based user-interfaces, to the Graphical User Interfaces (or GUIs) that most of you will be extremely familiar with. Operating Systems like Microsoft Windows and Mac OSX are textbook examples of such interfaces, since they were the ones to make the use of GUIs so mainstream.
Like me, Stephenson felt that this was a needless dumbing down of the way we interact with our computers, and that by replacing something real and direct with a total illusion we had forever lost touch with computers at their very core. As these GUIs grew simpler and simpler, this effect became more and more evident. Knowledge of computers that I have possessed from a very early age, knowledge that was considered elementary just 20 years ago, was enough to alienate me throughout many of my early years of schooling, through no fault of my own.
I wasn’t ahead of my age. The rest of the world was going backwards.
For me, one of Stephenson’s most memorable pieces of writing, not only in this book, but across his entire works, is his analogy for the modern GUI, whereby he recalls his (then recent) visit to Disneyland, and the man he saw walking through the “Magical Town”, with a camcorder up to his face. In reflection on this Stephenson cleverly remarks; “Rather than go see a real small town for free, he had paid money to see a pretend one, and rather than see it with the naked eye, he was watching it on television”.
If this is the nature of the modern computer operating system, what then is the nature of Google’s creation, a computer with no operating system at all, and only a window of sorts, through which you can see data that is hosted on another computer, somewhere thousands of miles away. Well imagine this man in Disneyland, had then taken the recording and uploaded it to YouTube. ChromeOS is the equivalent of watching that video online. None of the content you see is yours, and neither is it on your hard drive, or even real. You are looking at a recording of a small town, that could be millions of miles away, that may not even exist.
Simply put, this is the beginning of the end. For now, further “advancement” of such technology is impossible, because there is simply no conceivable way for the user to become any further removed from the actual process. The dice have been cast, and there is no turning back. If such technology becomes mainstream then mankind will have lost but all connection and understanding with its finest creation, leaving only eccentric and ostracised people like myself to simplify the relationship even further.
Check out our preview of the Chromebook CR-48 here