Google Chrome OS Unveiled, Signals Web Applications as Future of Computing

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Mrinal Kapoor

Nov 20, 2009, 1:04:55 PM11/20/09
to Skynet

A radical new day has dawned for the operating system.

Today Google finally aired its long awaited Chrome Operating System. The operating system was detailed at a press conference starting at 1 p.m. EST, and the open source code was posted online just before the start of the presentation. The new operating system brings a dramatically different look and perspective to the market and just may give Microsoft and OS X some tough competition by reinventing a tired old wheel – the operating system – offering the first laptop/desktop OS built around the browser and web applications.

A Google engineer set the mood for the presentation announcing in the introduction, “Chrome is the foundation of everything we’re doing here.”

According to Google, its Chrome browser has garnered 40 million users who use it as their primary browser. Google is already beating Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 browser by 30 percent in Javascript speed tests, according to the company (we confirm this claim in our browser benchmark series, parts 1, 2, 3, and 4). That success, in part, inspired Google to make the jump to the OS market. With the Chrome browser coming to Linux and OS X platforms, Google thought — why not make a full Linux distribution built around the Chrome browser and web applications?

Google’s Chrome OS is indeed built entirely around the company’s browser. For that reason, it naturally uses HTML 5 to provide it with rich graphical content and other advanced programming content. HTML 5 is used for graphics, video/audio playback, threading, threads, notifications, real-time communication, and storage – all critical factors to enabling games and productivity application.

The company is very enthused about both the netbook and tablet movements, as they have spawned cheap, full-featured internet devices, perfect for Google’s web-app based model. Google says its OS is built for netbooks and tablets and is based on three principles — “speed”, “simplicity”, and “security”.

Where many Linux distributions use some form of multiple desktops, Google’s OS instead uses multiple Windows — each a Chrome browser, essentially. Each browser can have multiple web applications open simultaneously as tabs — similar to PC-side applications in a standard operating system model. Ironically, the company’s competitors, in this respect, may fuel the upcoming OS’s success by their decision to release web apps – one example of this is Microsoft, which recently released a web application version of Office. Describes Google, “Turns out, Microsoft Office launched a killer app for Chrome OS.”

The browser window allows you to find files stored locally on your machine just like Windows Explorer or other file dialog windows. When you click to open them, though, rather than loading a stored application, it launches a web one. Media from attached devices such as Droid phones, pops up in a new tab and is displayed/played.

Another intriguing decision by Google is to only offer solid state drive netbooks in its upcoming Chrome OS models, soon to be released by its partners. Google says its goal is to make the computer feel like a TV — with an “instant-on” aesthetic.

As far as security, woes of OS X and Windows will not be problems on Google OS, according to the company. It says that under its web application model no app is trusted, so the potential for system compromise is dramatically reduced. It should be interesting to see if that holds true in practice. While that seems unlikely, even if Google can simply reduce the rate of attacks/vulnerabilities, it may be on to something, though. The Chrome browser’s track record thus far has been sterling, so its hard not to buy into Google’s rhetoric for the time being.

Under the new OS, data is stored as read-only and is only able to be accessed by a small list of trusted apps which are signed and verified. Each app is run in its own sandbox. And user data is synced and backed up on Google’s cloud (which may be an unsettling thought to some). Despite the privacy concerns, this means if you lose your netbook, you won’t lose your data — which is certainly a welcome development for anyone who has ever lost a laptop.
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