With an OS tied closely to the Web, Google can introduce sophisticated resource management tools that will allow Web applications to run much more smoothly. A major role for the OS is allocating memory to applications and adjusting it as their needs change. A big problem with interactive Web applications to date has been that browsers didn’t have efficient ways to adjust the memory assigned to different Web pages. The Chrome browser has already improved the situation, Spool says, and he expects the OS to go even farther. He says that this will allow more powerful Web applications that run more smoothly on the new OS.
But building the Chrome OS won’t be as simple as sticking a browser on top of the Linux kernel, Spool says. The browser version of Chrome relies on the underlying OS’s user interface, for example. Features such as scrollbars come from the OS, not the browser, so Google will need to build all of this from scratch, and even simple things will require significant time and effort.
The Chrome browser also lacks the drivers needed to power any external devices, such as printers or iPods. Texas Instruments’ Iyer envisions a new way that Chrome OS could address this problem. “Wouldn’t you rather have a printer connected in the cloud?” he says. As more devices, including cameras, printers, GPSes, and so on, become able to connect to the Internet in their own right, the concept of a Web interface between a user’s computer and the device comes closer to reality. “This is the holy grail of the Internet,” Iyer says.
Pichai and Upson have also said that Chrome OS will support all Web-based applications automatically, and that new applications written for Chrome OS will run “on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac, and Linux.” While Web application development has exploded in recent years, this might also introduce limitations, preventing the user from accessing interesting applications developed in programming languages not intended for the Web.
However, Google may have a solution for that too. The company is working on an experimental project called Google Native Client that would allow code written in non-Web languages such as C and C++ to run securely in the browser.
Chris Rohlf, a senior security consultant for Matasano Security, which has been involved in testing the implementation of Native Client, says, “It could be Google’s secret weapon when it comes to Chrome OS, because it would allow developers to extend that platform with things like video and graphics without having to wait for Google to implement any of that.”