Yesterday’s live-webcast ‘launch’ of Google Chrome OS, their new operating system, wasn’t a real launch, rather a release of the code and design documentation to the open source community (so don’t expect to pop into your local PC dealer to pick up a copy).
Nevertheless, it looks impressive and Joe Public should be able to get its hands on it before Christmas 2010 according to Sundar Pichai, Vice President of Product Management, the key speaker at the webcast.
So what is Chrome OS?
It’s Google’s Chrome browser that’s grown-up to become a fully-fledged Operating System (OS): Chrome OS. Though, technically-speaking it’s the Chrome browser running within a window on top of a Linux kernel.
Because Google has no historical OS-baggage, it’s been able to go back to the drawing board. The result is that Chrome OS takes a radically different approach to a traditional OS, such as Microsoft or Apple, in how it looks and how it works.
For a start, it is aimed at the netbook user and embraces cloud computing to the max: Chrome OS does not run local applications like a traditional desktop OS – it runs web applications exclusively and all data is cached locally and synced/stored in the cloud – plus it supports HTML 5, the anticipated next generation standard for web apps.
With no need to store local data it doesn’t need a hard-disk -- the grinding of teeth can be heard at the HD manufacturers -- though it does support flash hardware for temporary storage and for users working off-line. There is the slight issue of suitable hardware: there isn’t any, at least not to Google’s specification. Google is working with un-named manufacturers to develop the necessary hardware to their own specification including bigger keyboards -- presumably for the ‘larger-boned’ amongst us – so no pricing yet.
The Chrome OS design ethos is summed up nicely by what appears to be the product’s marketing strap line: ‘Speed, simplicity and security’. The alternative strap could well be ‘like a TV’ – an analogy used quite often by Google to help the masses visualise the product’s speedy and hassle-free start-up.
A key objective of the new OS according to Google is to ‘have web applications running as well as desktop applications’. Here’s a succinct marketing video that summarises what Chrome OS is all about:
Speed, simplicity and security
Speed, in particular, cleverly taps into frustrations that many internet users have with current OS’s – the dreaded boot-up when all you want to do is fire up a browser and get onto the internet.
Security is always a hot topic and, again, Chrome OS breaks the mould in a number of key areas.
Each time the OS boots up, it automatically updates itself and carries out a cryptographic-signature check to see if it’s been compromised. If it thinks that it has been, it will auto-repair, effectively re-imaging the system but without user intervention. Also, in the traditional OS security model, all apps have the same privileges to system resources and settings as the user, a fact exploited by hackers, viruses and malware. Conversely, Chrome OS does not trust any application and it uses ‘security sand-boxing’ where every application tab is locked down and separate from every other application tab. Finally, as it’s running web apps there are no background services to compromise.
The Chrome OS interface
The interface looks very Chrome-like (obviously!) with application tabs where you can pin your favourite web apps. Click on a tab, and the web app it contains becomes the active window – apps tabs remain in the same place so you should spend less time hunting around for them – and lightweight persistent panels (or ‘moles’ as Google calls them) can appear to provide services like media and chat. See it for yourself with the video of the webcast demo:
So Chrome OS is a Microsoft/Apple-killer?
Not quite. Even Pichai admits that a Chrome OS netbook will be a:
‘companion device and users will be expected to have another [desktop] machine’.
Clearly there are some desktop applications that may not become available as web apps, at least in the short-term, so you’ll probably need a netbook and a desktop machine. Google will be supporting Flash but it wouldn’t be drawn on whether Chrome OS will support Microsoft’s Silverlight. Incidentally, even Google’s own Android apps won’t run on Chrome OS.
Will I use a Chrome OS netbook? Certainly if it lives up to its promise and only if I can somehow run a FireFox browser (I rely too heavily on FF add-ins) but I’m not clear how this would work. Like most users I suspect, I wouldn’t use it exclusively, just as a convenient window onto the net. I like the cloud concept but I don’t use it for data that I deem to be sensitive; I think that data security in the cloud is something that advocates of cloud computing need to work on a lot more.
What are your thoughts on Chrome OS?
I’d love to hear them. Drop me a comment below.