Chrome OS, Google's cloud-based operating system, is scheduled for release in the second half of 2010. Given the proverbial beta status of Google products, nobody will be surprised if this deadline slips, but 2010 should see at least an advanced beta or release candidate. Despite the current availability of Jolicloud, for the majority of computer users, Chrome OS is likely to be the first glimpse of a cloud-based operating system.
The novelty of Chrome OS should bring it millions of downloads in the first month after its release. Moreover, Google is working with hardware manufacturers to ensure that Chrome OS is supported. Yet whether Chrome OS will maintain a large user base seems questionable. Many of us already have serious doubts about cloud-based operating systems, and so far, they seem even more awkward than the traditional desktops from which they are supposed to deliver us.
My guess is that Chrome OS will be nothing more than a niche product. One way or the other, though, we should have the verdict on the concepts behind it by the end of 2010.
Even if I am correct and Chrome OS enjoys only brief popularity, its lasting legacy will probably be the Chrome browser itself. Its speed and multi-threading are challenges that Mozilla Firefox will need to be nimble to meet, especially since Chrome may mean that Google will withdraw its support from Mozilla development.
Right now, Firefox's chief advantage is its thousands of extensions. Although the first Chrome extensions are now available, they will not match Mozilla's in number or versatility for a few years -- and then only if a large community forms around them.
This situation means that Chrome is no more going to overtake Mozilla than Mozilla is going to overtake Internet Explore in the foreseeable future. However, in 2010, Chrome could erode Firefox's user base in the same way that Firefox does Internet Explorer's.
Both are interesting for developers and interface designers. However, while I have only read about either one, since Raindrop is unreleased, and WAVE is available by invitation only, I would be surprised if either was a major success. For one thing, both set out to solve problems that average users do not see as problems. I simply don't see that most users want to centralize messaging, or are particularly interested in real-time collaboration.
Yet even if users were interested, both Raindrop and WAVE seem too complicated and too major a readjustment in thinking to have much chance of being widely used. Reviewers will probably love them, because reviewers are among the more experienced users. Other users? Not so much.
Early in January, Google's Nexus One should be available. The Nexus One has good (although not completely favorable) buzz within the tech community, but whether it will find a larger market is questionable.
From reports, the Nexus One does not include any features that will be compelling to a general audience. Moreover, it will be competing in a saturated phone market, and Google does not have the reputation of Apple. Nor are matters helped by the fact that, at first, it will not be sold through any cellular service, or even through stores. Under these circumstances, I think it will sell mainly to developers, and fail to find much of a wider audience.
This list was not compiled with any stronger bias than the accidental one of my own interests. Yet, looking at it, I realize that four out of nine involve Google. That observation suggests a meta-prediction: 2010 will be a crucial year for Google's efforts to move beyond being a development shop and become a major player in both software and hardware.
Given Google's past performance, I am pessimistic that the company can make this move. Yet, at the same time, Google is the source of so many innovations that sooner or later it is likely to have a major success, if only on the infinite monkey theory.
As for my other predictions, while I expect changes in the open source community, I do not expect an apocalypse. The community is diverse enough that, at the same time that changes are a given, the effect of any single change will make little difference to the thousands submitting patches every day.
The angst of the moment may be intense, but, in the end, the community will go on plotting world domination and reaching various milestones without much fuss -- then, every now and then, something neither I nor any other observer predicted will roll along.
And if I am wrong about anything? Then I claim the psychic's privilege of not being held to account for my lack of accuracy or failure of foresight, and reserve the right to try again year, with no prejudice from anybody's long memory being used against me.