Google Chrome OS

Google Chrome OS is an open source operating system designed by Google to work exclusively with web applications.[3] Announced on July 7, 2009, Chrome OS is set to have a publicly available stable release during the second half of 2010.[4] The operating system is based on Linux and will run only on specifically designed hardware.[5] The user interface takes a minimalist approach, resembling that of the Chrome web browser. Because the browser will be the only application residing on the device, Google Chrome OS is aimed at users who spend most of their computer time on the Internet.

Work-in-progress previews

At a November 19, 2009 news conference, Sundar Pichai, the Google vice president overseeing Chrome, demonstrated an early version of the operating system, which included a desktop that closely resembled the Chrome browser. However, beside the regular browser tabs, the interface also had application tabs, which take less space and can be pinned for easier access. The netbook running the operating system booted up in seven seconds, a time Google is working to improve.[9]

On the same day, Google released Chrome OS’s source code under the BSD license as the Chromium OS project.[10] As with other open source projects, developers are modifying code from Chromium OS and building their own versions, whereas Google Chrome OS code will only be supported by Google and its partners, and will only run on hardware designed for the purpose. Unlike Chromium OS, Chrome OS will be automatically updated to the latest version.[11] InformationWeek reviewer Serdar Yegulalp wrote that Chrome OS will be a product, developed to “a level of polish and a degree of integration with its host hardware that Chromium OS does not have by default,” whereas Chromium OS is a project, “a common baseline from which the finished work is derived” as well a pool for derivative works. The product and project will be developed in parallel and borrow from each other.[12]

Because Chrome OS and Chromium OS will share the same code base[11][12], early versions of Chromium OS give a preview of Chrome OS. The Chromium OS alpha release includes an applications page, launched by a button in the upper-left corner of the screen. The page links to Google-developed Web applications, including Gmail, Google Apps, Picasa, and YouTube, as well as other applications, including Yahoo mail, Pandora, Hulu, Facebook and Twitter. Chromium also provides a calculator, clock, battery indicator, and network status indicator. The function key F12 brings up a multi-window view, with the option to open additional browser windows and switch between them. The F8 key toggles a keyboard overlay that shows the function of all the shortcut keys, including task and memory managers comparable to those found on the Chrome browser, and a command-line interface that accepts common Linux commands.

Design goals and direction

User interface

Design goals for Google Chrome OS’s user interface include using minimal screen space by combining applications and standard Web pages into a single tab strip, rather than separating the two. Designers are considering a reduced window management scheme that would operate only in full-screen mode. Secondary tasks would be handled with “panels”: floating windows that dock to the bottom of the screen for tasks like chat and music players. Split screens are also under consideration for viewing two pieces of content side-by-side. Google Chrome OS will follow the Chrome browser’s practice of leveraging HTML5‘s offline modes, background processing, and notifications. Designers propose using search and pinned tabs as a way to quickly locate and access applications.


In preliminary design documents for the Chromium OS open source project, Google describes a three-tier architecture: firmware, browser and window manager, and system-level software and userland services.[15]

  • The firmware contributes to fast boot time by not probing for hardware, such as floppy disk drives, that are no longer common on computers, especially netbooks. The firmware also contributes to security by verifying each step in the boot process and incorporating system recovery.[15]
  • System-level software includes the Linux kernel that has been patched to improve boot performance. Userland software has been trimmed to essentials, with management by Upstart, which can launch services in parallel, re-spawn crashed jobs, and defer services in the interest of faster booting.[15]
  • The window manager handles user interaction with multiple client windows much like other X window managers.

Hardware support

Google Chrome OS is initially intended for secondary devices like netbooks, not a user’s primary PC,[9] and will run on hardware incorporating an x86 or ARM.[6] While Chrome OS will support hard disk drives, Google has requested that its hardware partners use solid state drives due to their higher performance and reliability[11], as well as the lower capacity requirements inherent in an operating system that accesses applications and most user data on remote servers. Google Chrome OS consumes one-sixtieth as much drive space as Windows 7.[16]

Companies developing hardware for the operating system include Hewlett-Packard, Acer, Adobe, Asus, Lenovo, Texas Instruments, Freescale[17], Intel[18], and Qualcomm.[19]

In December 2009, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch reported that Google has approached at least one hardware manufacturer about building a Google-branded Chrome OS netbook. According to Arrington’s sources, the devices could possibly be configured for mobile broadband and be subsidized by one or more carriers.

Market implications

When Google announced the Chrome browser in September 2008 it was viewed[21] as a continuation of the battle between Google and Microsoft (“the two giants of the digital revolution“).[22] As of December 2009[update], Microsoft dominates the usage share of desktop operating systems[22] and the software market in word processing and spreadsheet applications. The operating system dominance may be challenged directly by Google Chrome OS, and the application dominance indirectly through a shift to cloud computing.[22] According to an analysis by PC World,[23] Google Chrome OS represents the next step in this battle.

In November 2009 Glyn Moody writing for the Linux Journal predicted that Google’s market model for the Chrome OS will be to give the software and the netbook hardware that it will run on away for free, as a means of expanding its advertising-based model. He said: “The unexpected success of netbooks over the last two years shows there is a market for this new kind of computing; giving away systems for free would take it to the next level. Then, gradually, that instant-on, secure, secondary netbook might become the one you spend most time on, and Google’s ad revenues would climb even higher….”

Relationship to Android

The successive introductions of Android and Google Chrome OS, both open source, client-based operating systems, have created some market confusion, especially with Android’s growing success.[25] Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer accused his competitor of not being able to make up its mind.[26] Google has downplayed this conflict, suggesting that the two operating systems address different markets, mobile and personal computing, which remain distinct despite the growing convergence of the devices. Co-founder Sergey Brin suggested that the two systems “will likely converge over time”.


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