Google Chrome OS: Not for Your Desktop

Google unveiled more details about its much-anticipated Chrome OS at a press event a

t its Mountain View, California campus last week, but those who were hoping for a beta release of the OS were in for a disappointment.

"We aren't launching the product today. There is no beta today," said Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management. "Our target is the end of next year. We want to be there for the holiday season."

Developers who want a closer look at the project, however, will get their wish. Google immediately released the Chrome OS code to the public under an open source license, along with the associated design documents. "As of today, the code will be fully open," said Chrome OS director of engineering Matt Papakipos, "which means Google developers will be working on the same tree as external developers."

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An OS That is a Browser

Chrome OS is Google's latest attempt to further its concept of browser-based computing, in which the traditional PC desktop is deemphasized in favor of a completely Web-based experience.

At the heart of the new OS is the Chrome browser, which Google has been developing as an alternative to competitors such as Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Opera.

google chrome os

A Chrome OS computer will run no local applications, Pichai explained, and user documents and other data will be maintained via Web-based cloud storage. "With Chrome OS, every application is a Web application," Pichai said.

Applications running on Chrome OS will benefit from the Chrome browser's support for HTML 5 standards and its accelerated JavaScript engine, which Pichai said now executes JavaScript 39 times faster than Internet Explorer 8. (Microsoft claims that IE9 will close the gap, although it has given no sense of when IE9 might ship.)

Papakipos also demonstrated Chrome OS applications based on Flash, and he said Google's Native Client technology would also be available on the platform. Native Client is an ActiveX-like technology that provides plug-in capabilities to interact with local system resources. "Everything that comes in Chrome will be available in Chrome OS, and we think Native Client is an important part of this story," Papakipos said.

But Chrome OS will have an additional advantage over browsers running on traditional operating systems, Papakipos said, because it will be tightly integrated with the underlying hardware. That means Web applications running on Chrome OS will be able to take advantage of such features as multiprocessing and GPU acceleration.

Chrome OS will rely on third-party applications to handle non-Web file types. By way of example, Pichai demonstrated opening and Excel spreadsheet in Microsoft's Excel 2010 Web App. "It turns out Microsoft launched a killer app for Chrome OS," Pichai joked.

Conspicuously absent from Google's presentation, however, was any mention of the L-word. Although Chrome OS is based on the Linux kernel, users should not expect a traditional desktop Linux distribution, à la Suse or Ubuntu.

Instead, Google aims to deliver small, portable Internet devices that power on quickly and deliver users directly into the browser. "It takes about seven seconds for a Chrome OS machine to boot," Pichai said, "and we're working really, really hard to make this shorter."

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