Introducing the Google Chrome OS

After years of speculation, Google has officially announced its intentions for a “Google OS”. From the press release:

It’s been an exciting nine months since we launched the Google Chrome browser. Already, over 30 million people use it regularly. We designed Google Chrome for people who live on the web — searching for information, checking email, catching up on the news, shopping or just staying in touch with friends. However, the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web. So today, we’re announcing a new project that’s a natural extension of Google Chrome — the Google Chrome Operating System. It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be.

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we’re already talking to partners about the project, and we’ll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

It basically sounds as though Chrome OS will be a very light weight Linux that can boot extremely quickly and is designed to run the Chrome browser quickly and efficiently. The details beyond that are unfortunately extremely light at this point. It’s a bit ironic that Chrome OS is based on Linux while Linux support in Chrome has considerably lagged Windows and OS X support thus far. My initial thought was, why Chrome OS in addition to Android. They touch on that in the press release:

Google Chrome OS is a new project, separate from Android. Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems. While there are areas where Google Chrome OS and Android overlap, we believe choice will drive innovation for the benefit of everyone, including Google.

It seems to me there will be quite a bit of overlap, but we’ll have to see what direction Google takes both Chrome OS and Android before we can tell for sure. You have to assume that much of the Chrome OS experience will actually take place in the cloud, which could get interesting but poses a variety of stumbling points, of which privacy and security will be major ones. Another pain point is what the experience will be like when you go offline (which happens quite a bit, despite what some people attempt to tell you). Keep in mind that Chrome OS isn’t scheduled to launch for almost a full year. A lot can happen in that time, but this announcement should be seen as a bright spot for Linux in general. Google could have chosen anything to build this on top off. The fact that they continually build products on top of Open Source software should be seen as a testament to the quality of that software. Whether Google will be able to bring Linux to the masses where others have failed remains to be seen, but between Chrome OS and Android they’re certainly trying. Privacy issues (which far too many people ignore) aside, Chrome OS + Gears + HTML5 + Wave + whatever technology drops in the next 12 months certainly has the potential to be an extremely compelling combo. It’s certainly something I’ll be keeping my eye on.

–jeremy

Additional reading:

WSJ
TechDirt
NYT
TechCrunch
RedMonk

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