Google’s always been in heated competition with Microsoft. We thought that the competition was becoming hot again when the company behind the dominant Windows OS launched their new search engine, Bing with much fanfare. But that may be nothing compared to the bombshell Google just dropped. Google announced on their blog tonight that they’re releasing an operating system: Google Chrome OS. While the company already has a mobile operating system in Android, this new one will be based off of Google Chrome, Google’s web browser.
Just after we heard a number of rumors about the possible arrival of the rumored Google OS tonight, Google actually went ahead and announced (official Google Blog post) that it will indeed release its own operating system – the Google Chrome Operating System. For now, Google plans to aim this OS at the netbook market. The new, Chrome-like OS will only become available for consumers in the second half of 2010, but Google promises that it’ll be an open source (”later this year”), lightweight platform that can “power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems.” According the the announcement on the Google blog, the OS will run on standard x86 chips (that includes Intel Atom) as well as ARM chips, and Google is already working with a number of OEMs to bring devices that run the Google Chrome OS to the market.
Google Chrome OS is Not Android
In the announcement, Google stresses that this operating system is a completely new project and not affiliated with Google’s Android OS, which, according to Google, was always meant to run on a variety of devices, including netbooks. (”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.“) Google acknowledges that the two operating systems might overlap in some areas, but the company believes that, ultimately, “choice will drive innovation for the benefit of everyone, including Google.”
Here is how Google describes the OS:
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.
The Google Chrome OS will run on top of a Linux kernel, though the exact details about the actual implementation are still vague.
Perfect for Netbooks
This kind of operating system would obviously be perfect for netbooks, which, after all, are meant to be constantly connected to the Internet and don’t have a lot of resources. Currently, most netbooks run Windows XP, which, by now, is a rather antiquated operating system. With Windows 7, Microsoft tried to release a version for netbooks that would only run three applications at the same time (though Microsoft has since dropped this limit). Maybe Google is going to take this even further and will release an OS that will only run one application – Chrome.
With this, Google can obviously put its own web apps like Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs at the center of the user experience, and this is surely part of Google’s motivation behind releasing this OS. But given that Chrome is simply a browser, any other web app would obviously also be able to run on it as well.
But let’s be clear on what this really is. This is Google dropping the mother of bombs on its chief rival, Microsoft. It even says as much in the first paragraph of its post, “However, the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web.” Yeah, who do you think they mean by that?
And it’s a genius play. So many people are buying netbooks right now, but are running WIndows XP on them. Windows XP is 8 years old. It was built to run on Pentium IIIs and Pentium 4s. Google Chrome OS is built to run on both x86 architecture chips and ARM chips, like the ones increasingly found in netbooks. It is also working with multiple OEMs to get the new OS up and running next year.
Obviously, this Chrome OS will be lightweight and fast just like the browser itself. But also just like the browser, it will be open-sourced. Think Microsoft will be open-sourcing Windows anytime soon?
As Google writes, “We have a lot of work to do, and we’re definitely going to need a lot of help from the open source community to accomplish this vision.” They might as well set up enlistment booths on college campuses for their war against Microsoft.
Google says the software architecture will basically be the current Chrome browser running inside “a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel.” So in other words, it basically is the web as an OS. And applications developers will develop for it just as they would on the web. This is similar to the approach Palm has taken with its new webOS for the Palm Pre, but Google notes that any app developed for Google Chrome OS will work in any standards-compliant browser on any OS.
What Google is doing is not recreating a new kind of OS, they’re creating the best way to not need one at all.
So why release this new OS instead of using Android? After all, it has already been successfully ported to netbooks. Google admits that there is some overlap there. But a key difference they don’t mention is the ability to run on the x86 architecture. Android cannot do that, Chrome OS can and will. But more, Google wants to emphasize that Chrome OS is all about the web, whereas Android is about a lot of different things. Including apps that are not standard browser-based web apps.
But Chrome OS will be all about the web apps. And no doubt HTML 5 is going to be a huge part of all of this. A lot of people are still wary about running web apps for when their computer isn’t connected to the web. But HTML 5 has the potential to change that, as you’ll be able to work in the browser even when not connected, and upload when you are again.
We’re starting to see more clearly why Google’s Vic Gundotra was pushing HTML 5 so hard at Google I/O this year. Sure, part of it was about things like Google Wave, but Google Wave is just one of many new-style apps in this new Chrome OS universe.
But there is a wild card is all of this still for Microsoft: Windows 7. While Windows XP is 8 years old, and Windows Vista is just generally considered to be a bad OS for netbooks, Windows 7 could offer a good netbook experience. And Microsoft had better hope so, or its claim that 96% of netbooks run Windows is going to be very different in a year.
Google plans to release the open source code for Chrome OS later this year ahead of the launch next year. Don’t be surprised if this code drops around the same time as Windows 7. Can’t wait to hear what Microsoft will have to say about all of this!
The Google Chrome Operating System is designed to be a lightweight system, just like the Chrome browser. Unfortunately, Google didn’t divulge many other details, and it will be a while until anyone gets their hands on it. Clearly though, Google’s setting the stage for a major battle with Microsoft. Just as Microsoft is trying to break Google’s stranglehold on the search engine market, Google may be trying to do the same with the Windows-controlled OS market. Oh, and one other thing: How will Apple respond to this?
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