- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mark it down in your calendars; make an entry in your journal. Blog about it, or cut a video to remember it all. This is the week that computing has changed, quite possibly forever.

Tuesday’s announcement by Google Inc. of a netbook version of Chrome OS (short for “operating system”) should send shudders through the headquarters of Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. Not that either firm is going to be instantly “toppled” by a new product, but the lighter, cloud computing-friendly Chrome OS will appeal to many users, and to many enterprises. If you can make a computer and its applications faster, cheaper, more pervasive and more mobile, a good segment of the data-using world will beat a path to your door. Oh, and make all the new netbooks cellular data friendly and give some free wireless each month and, yeah, you’ll win fans.

While Google showed off a lot of neat bells and whistles — games to play on the new device; the ability to “print from the cloud” without installing driver software specific to each printer; and ways to protect the new device from viruses and other attacks. The proof of the pudding, as the saying goes, is in the tasting, however, and while it’s easy to promise and harder to deliver, one is more tempted to believe some of Google’s promises.

Why? Well, in large part because of what it has delivered already. Google promised a very good e-mail service, and Gmail is just that. It is, I guess, my primary e-mail system, certainly my primary personal one. Gmail works, works well and I can’t remember the last time there was a crash. (Then again, most of my e-mail networks stay online without a hitch.) There are nice plug-ins for Gmail such as WiseStamp (www.wisestamp.com) that allow you to add professional-looking “signatures” to your e-mail. And Gmail is accessible just about anywhere on the planet, as long as you have a network connection.

Ditto for Google’s Chrome Web browser. It’s faster than anything else I’ve seen so far, and less prone to hacking (again, so far). As with Gmail, you can get various plug-ins to check on things such as news sources in which you’re interested and to customize Chrome in other ways. The Chrome OS is built on and around the Web browser, since Google wants people to do their computing “in the cloud” whenever possible. (Some Chrome OS applications, the firm said, will work “offline,” or disconnected from the Internet.)

To this observer, however, one of the most promising things Google has created, developed and delivered, and that is its Google Books project. From a mere cataloging of the world’s literature, the product has now grown into an online bookstore where texts may be purchased, or obtained at no charge, and downloaded for reading on a PC, smart phone or tablet, such as Apple’s iPad. I logged on to the service on its launch day Monday and was impressed with the software and the selection of titles. The iPad and iPhone applications are just fine, with all sorts of options to make reading easier.

But there is more: Search for an author, and you’ll not only find his or her books, but books in which he or she is cited. I found my own work mentioned or quoted in several published books of which I was not aware, and certainly not aware of their (fair and proper) use. The question of immortality doesn’t arise often in this space, but Google Books will keep my work alive for a long time after I’m gone.

It’s not just ego that makes me like Google Books, or wish their new ventures well. These are people who seem to be coming up with new ideas, with refinements, and with products that deliver as promised. If anything is going to advance our stuck-on-the-road economy, it’s going to be thinking such as that.

Send e-mail to mkellner@washingtontimes.com.



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