Operating browser: The user interface of Google’s Chrome operating system, demonstrated in public for the first time on Thursday, is designed to feel exactly like a browser. The company says the operating system will make it easy for users to discover new Web applications and store their favorites through an application menu, shown above.
Pichai said that Google plans to launch the first devices running Chrome OS by next year’s holiday season. The operating system won’t be available for download, however. Because of its tight integration between software and hardware, users will have to buy a Chrome device from one of Google’s partners in order to use it. Google plans to give partners strict hardware requirements for the devices, specifying particular wireless cards and other components.
Developers interested in testing and debugging the system could run it today in a virtual machine.
Initially, Pichai said, Google is focused on “netbook-like devices” and expects that most of its target market will also have a desktop machine at home for applications that might not be available online or too processor-intensive to run, such as Photoshop. The Chrome OS is not intended for running without an Internet connection, but will have some offline capabilities. It will be able to display books or play media loaded from an external device, and it will be able to run Web applications that take advantage of the offline capabilities of new Web standards.
Though Google’s Chrome browser hasn’t yet taken over the marketplace, the operating system could stand a better chance, says James Staten, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. While users have to choose to download and use the browser, they might get the operating system by default in devices such as netbooks, and Staten believes that Google is counting on this. The key will be to make users happy enough with Chrome that they keep the software.
The strategy is a bit risky, Staten says, pointing out that though some netbook manufacturers have offered Linux-based operating systems by default, “there’s been a heavy preference for swapping to Windows.” Google hopes that users will want to use Google services such as Docs, Maps, and Gmail, and thus will like the integration that the Chrome operating system provides, he says.
To have a truly successful Web operating system, Google will have to make sure that users are satisfied that their data is consistent, available, and secure, says Amin Vahdat, a professor of computer science at the University of California, San Diego, who was one of the researchers to first look into the merits and challenges of such a system.
Google’s resources and many data centers, combined with today’s increasing bandwidth, make it easier to keep data available, but the problem hasn’t been completely solved. As far as security in the cloud, Vahdat says, “with services like Gmail and Google Docs, Google has demonstrated that for certain applications, people and even companies are willing to give up a little control and potentially security in exchange for the convenience that its model provides.”
Though he thinks now is the right time to launch a commercial Web operating system, Vahdat adds that adoption won’t happen overnight. He says Google is “laying the seeds now for something that could become widespread over the next three to five years.”