updated 07:45 am EDT, Wed July 8, 2009
Google Chrome OS
Google early today staked out its claim in full computer operating systems with word that it would launch its own. Chrome OS is meant "initially" for netbooks and relies solely on web apps; while Linux underneath, all software is just an instance of the Chrome web browser running in a custom windowing system. The approach not only keeps a small app footprint but sandboxes any content to prevent malware attacks from spreading. Importantly, nearly any Chrome OS app should also work in a truly standards-based web browser regardless of platform.
The company argues that systems based on the software should boot quickly and, because apps can be run online, wouldn't need significant amounts of offline storage or regular updating. Google hasn't said how much access apps will have to local hardware.
The OS is optimized both for ARM processors as well as x86 and should reach one or both platforms in the second half of 2010, when both the systems and Chrome OS should ship. More than one PC builder has already signed on to develop for the OS, and there should be "a number" of netbooks just next year, Google says. It expects a certain degree of overlap with Android, which also runs on both platforms and should run on netbooks, but isn't concerned; where Android is intended for mobile devices and runs native apps, Chrome OS' web focus is intended to scale up to full-fledged desktops.
Launching a full computer OS is a potentially dangerous blow to Microsoft. The Windows developer has fought to exclude Linux from netbooks in the past two years and has taken to selling Windows below cost to reduce the price advantage for Linux distributions, which are often free beyond the PC maker's development costs. With Windows 7, Microsoft is hoping to drive prices back up and may add at least $45 to the base cost of a netbook. Google has yet to say whether it will charge for its platform but has so far given Android away for free under certain conditions.