Now that I’ve had a weekend to play with two different variations of the new Chrome OS (reviewed here), I have to say that I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings about Google’s attempt to jump into the operating system arena. One of the feelings I felt this weekend was completely unexpected — Déjà vu.

In 1995, I was working my way through law school as a programmer/analyst at the university’s main library. One of the projects we worked on that year was rolling out IBM’s OS/2 Warp as our new operating system, replacing Windows 3.1 — Windows 95 hadn’t been released yet. One of the issues we had was what to do with the “Public Terminals” that ran the library’s catalog, web based CD-ROM programs, and Netscape Web browser. The answer we came up with was a “browser only terminal.” So when I booted up the new Google Chrome OS as a virtual desktop, I couldn’t help but become nostalgic for my project from 14 years ago.
Many of the ideas that Chrome is developing now, we tried back in 1995.
  • Everything runs through the browser
  • Any new databases or resources were developed to run via the browser
  • Security on the computer was handled on the remote server
  • Files were stored either on an external source floppy disk (now USB) or on the server (now ‘cloud’)
  • Upgrades to the operating system were handled through remote patches
  • No programs could be loaded on the local computer (OS/2 would hide in the background)
Eventually, our grand plan of running everything through the browser failed. IBM didn’t support OS/2 very well; the demand for Windows 95 programs became too much to deny the students; and, too many companies that we obtained our library resources developed stand alone programs to run their products, rather than web based programs. I think we were probably too ahead of our time to make such an idea work.
They say that everything old is new again. The idea of running an operating system through a web browser is not new and there will still be the same difficulties that we found back in 1995. I don’t think that the Google OS will be a Microsoft, or Apple (or any OS out there) ‘Killer’. But, with Google’s name attached, maybe… just maybe a portion of the public is ready for a web browser only interface to the online world.