I just shipped my last ChromeOS device to a buyer on eBay, and while photographing the packaging just prior to shipment, I had cause to reflect on this device, the box it was in, and the year 2013, a strange year for me computing-wise, a year in which the Windows guy abandoned Microsoft completely.
Come, emote with me.
As 2012 ended, I slowly but steadily realized I hated Windows 8. Strike that. I reviled it. Its only saving grace was that Hyper-V came baked into Windows 8 Pro and Enterprise, but even that wasn’t enough to save it for me. I hated the tiles, the split-brained nature of the thing, the helter-skelter implementation, the awful Windows Store that was bereft of anything useful for work, or fun for home.
And I resented the shit out of Microsoft for making Server 2012 boot to the awful Start Screen, where it is about 10 times more useless than in Windows 8. I think my colleagues and I actually booed and hissed the first time we ran Server 2012 and had to hunt for the start screen activator thing like we were playing Enterprise Wack-A-Mole.
Windows, to borrow from Steve Jobs (and give another Here! Here! to Paul Thurott for his essay last week), was my work truck. I dumped all my stuff in it, had built a toolbox for the truck bed, and knew exactly which levers and buttons to push to make my Windows boxes purr and perform. And while Microsoft had done some great upgrades to the truck for Server 2012 (networking stack in particular), unless you ran core (you should!) it was all masked by that goofy wretched start screen.
Who among us didn’t get frustrated at being mouse/keyboard guys and suddenly facing a designed-by-committee touch interface on our dual or triple LCD displays?
Fed up, I went for the sugar high of using Mac OS X with Parallels, but that wore off after a few weeks.
So I ran kicking and screaming to the arms of Google. I stuck some rainbow-colored G way up into the emptiness of my heart, the place Microsoft had once occupied. I went deep. balls-deep, into the Chrome.
I loved the integration, the speed, the ubiquity & presence of all Chrome apps on all devices all in perfect sync, all my stuff living up there in the nebulous but omniscient Google “cloud.” It was a no-nonsense OS, the new operating system for people who just wanted to get shit done. I joined the Beta group, then dev, got familiar with the chrome://flags screen, and more.
A flurry of purchases ensued. The CR-48 came out of storage. I bought the Samsung ArmBook. Then a rare and prized Google I/O 2012 ChromeBox with a Core i5. The Windows box at home went into storage, the laptop at work went to an incoming exec, and I maintained my enterprise via the Chromebox for much of 2013.
My colleagues thought I was nuts (they’re right) but I made it work, and it wasn’t even (that) hack-ish. For remote desktop I bought ChromeRDP for $10 (A+++ would buy again) and in order to run my Windows applications on the Chromebox, I stood up a VM and built out the incredible RemoteSpark HTML 5 RDS server written by a small company in Canada (a solution so awesome that Google & vmWare appear to be ready to copy it in 2014).
In my own mind, I was an IT Hero, pointing the way forward, demonstrating that with ChromeOS, you could have your cake and eat it too: A high performance, secure & cheap desktop platform giving you reliable access to your Windows-based server stack, the .nets and the asps and the IISes and the Exchanges and SQLs happily existing within my modern, fast and slick browser operating system. I was ecstatic.
“Don’t you see?!?” I cried out to my colleagues, as if I was John the Baptist, announcing the Messiah’s arrival.
“This is what John Gage of Sun was talking about so long ago. We’re here! The network is now the computer!” I wailed, sackcloth and ashes now, as the networking guy backed away slowly, and passwords to critical systems were changed.
It all felt so right, so perfect, so wonderful. It is, afterall, bliss at the top of the Gartner Hype Cycle chart.
But then in perhaps the most spectacular IT Icarus story you’ve ever heard, I got too close to the promised land, too near the warm and beautiful future that awaits us (Agnostic Computing, where you don’t care what device you’re on), that my wings burned off, I fell to the server room floor in a pile of shattered dreams, cat 5 cable, and hopes.
Snowden. NSA. Compromised SSL certs, RSA the standard in security, but in reality a research branch of the NSA. The dawning realization that the cost was too high, that I was surrendering too much for this convenience. And oh yeah, the $$$ cost was probably about the same too as the on-prem stuff, and guess what? I got more 9s than the lot of them.
Disillusionment, despair, depression, all over again.
ChromeOS -and the stuff supporting it- not so shiny anymore.
And then, just like that, summer ended. I saw screenshots of Windows 8.1. I saw my beloved Start button return. I saw options to banish the Start Screen away for good if I liked. I saw Windows Management Framework 4, Powershell 4.0, and so many other goodies. Then Ballmer got sacked, following Sinofsky, and Gates was Alpha Dog once more.
Microsoft was still lost and confused, perhaps fatally, but at least I got my Start button back. Server 2012 R2, while not perfect, was what Server 2012 should have been, I thought. The “CloudOS” needn’t be so; you could keep all that stuff on-prem if you like. Yeah it’s not as elegant or complete as Chrome from a user standpoint, but it’s not as compromised either.
And so I resolved last fall to sharpen my skills rather than surrender to the cloud providers. I bought into a DIY & “Maker” aesthetic that seems to be, in my observations of the industry at least, getting some traction among IT pros lately.