Sometime in 2010, Google, ever the consummate pioneer in the cloud computing arena, let loose one its strangest products to date: an operating system that ran from the very web browser that shares its name. The Mountain View tech giant’s big idea with Chrome OS was to host an entire ecosystem of apps and libraries (the more tangible and visible component of an operating system) on the cloud and have them available to users anywhere they go.
Before Its Time
It was too easy where the detractors were coming from at the time. At the time, it sounded like the whole idea was extremely counter intuitive. In order to access Chrome OS, one had to have:
- Hardware, like a laptop or desktop PC, that was already running an existing operating system
- The Chrome browser installed
- A steady, unbroken Internet connection.
It would be a year until machines dedicated to running Chrome OS, called Chromebooks, hit the market. It would take even longer for Google’s Android Market to upgrade to the Play Store, offering more than just Android apps and allowing usability for Chrome OS that would in turn extend to Google’s suite of media players.
Was it a matter of poor timing? At the time, Google’s cloud-based office productivity suite, Google Docs, had reached maturity by extending its range of software from a standalone word processor to include software for the creation of spreadsheets and slideshows. Google had also begun bundling Gmail and Docs with premium rates that offered additional benefits, including storage, paving the way for what would eventually become Google Drive.
Perhaps, regardless of the dissent on release, it was actually right on time. Almost six years later and Chrome OS is still soldiering on, enjoying the longevity that some of Google’s less than stellar products (like Buzz and Wave) could only imagine. And yet, in the ever-expanding space of cloud-based solutions, Chrome OS is hardly alone in the category of best cloud operating systems. Some, like the celebrated JoliOS with its 15 thousand apps, have come and gone while most, like eyeOS, have been acquired to serve as the back-end support for other products. The few that are still standing and are worth mentioning are featured on this list in order to properly compare cloud services between different vendors.
ZeroPC is perhaps the strongest challenger to Chrome OS in terms of functionality. The system boasts of integration with Google Docs, Evernote, SugarSync, Picasa, Photobucket, Instagram, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook, as well as Microsoft’s Office 365. Most users sing praises of its Photo Connect app, which is touted as a powerful photo management tool.
In terms of cloud storage, ZeroPC offers 1GB of free storage right out of the box with an additional 100GB from connected services. Amazon Cloud Drive, Box.net, Copy.net, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and SkyDrive are also supported in addition to its native file manager. The system can also run desktop applications using a Java plugin.
Interested users can sign up using their Google or Facebook accounts. Users can also avail of a subscription package that grants additional cloud storage for a flat monthly fee ($2.99 for 5GB and $9.99 for 50GB). There is also a mobile version of the OS that is available for download on Android or Apple devices.
SilveOS looks and behaves very much like Windows and that’s because the entire operating system was built on Microsoft’s own Silverlight framework. As such, the operating system features pretty much the same set of applications one can expect to find in a standard Windows installation, including File Explorer, Internet Explorer, Notepad, Paint, and Calculator, along with games like Chess, Solitaire, Minesweeper and Spider. In addition, the developers also baked in a video player, rich text editor, RSS reader, Twitter client, Flickr viewer and YouTube player.
For added functionality, programs that were developed in Silverlight, whether it’s online or on the computer’s local drive, are also supported. There’s no cloud storage here but the mobile app available for download on—where else—Windows phones.
iSpaces offers the most robust set of features and applications for work and enterprise. Its claim to fame is its unique desktop management scheme that provides users three different desktop environments, each running its own set of applications. It’s also bundled with a free calling application, similar to Skype, that allows users to call or send instant messages to their contacts.
Its application list includes the basic notepad and web browser, as well as ZoHoDocs for documents. Storage-wise, iSpaces offer 1GB of space for free in addition to what a users have available on their Sky Drive, Dropbox, and Google Drive accounts.
The system has been known to run smoothly on Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari and even Internet Explorer. Premium pricing for additional storage and mobile applications is not available at the moment.
Microsoft Cloud OS
Redmond’s curiously branded “Cloud OS” isn’t so much an operating system on top of another operating system but rather it’s an infrastructure that pulls together the company’s existing cloud solutions, like Windows Server and Windows Azure, into a tighter ecosystem for a more efficient management of datacenter resources, including networking and storage. Microsoft Cloud OS is an enterprise solution, not an end-consumer product, for IT professionals.
Ahead of Its Time
It does seem like Google had an idea about where Chrome OS would lead from the very beginning. These days, the web-based platform enjoys even greater usability thanks to a combination of apps that run offline and on the desktop, hardware partners including Samsung, Asus, and Acer, and its tighter integration with Google’s more popular operating system, Android. If you’re looking into utilizing a cloud-based operating system, it’s best to know more than just the basics. Services like Cloud Kompare that compares cloud services can give you all the nitty-gritty details you need to make the right choice and stay abreast of all the up and coming changes to the online world of the cloud.
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