Wow. So you know all those whispers about a Google desktop operating system that never seem to go away? You thought they might with the launch of Android, Google’s mobile OS. But they persisted. And for good reason, because it’s real.
In the second half of 2010, Google plans to launch the Google Chrome OS, an operating system designed from the ground up to run the Chrome web browser on netbooks. “It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be,” Google writes tonight on its blog.
But let’s be clear on what this really is. This is Google dropping the mother of bombs on its chief rival, Microsoft. It even says as much in the first paragraph of its post, “However, the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web.” Yeah, who do you think they mean by that?
And it’s a genius play. So many people are buying netbooks right now, but are running WIndows XP on them. Windows XP is 8 years old. It was built to run on Pentium IIIs and Pentium 4s. Google Chrome OS is built to run on both x86 architecture chips and ARM chips, like the ones increasingly found in netbooks. It is also working with multiple OEMs to get the new OS up and running next year.
Obviously, this Chrome OS will be lightweight and fast just like the browser itself. But also just like the browser, it will be open-sourced. Think Microsoft will be open-sourcing Windows anytime soon?
As Google writes, “We have a lot of work to do, and we’re definitely going to need a lot of help from the open source community to accomplish this vision.” They might as well set up enlistment booths on college campuses for their war against Microsoft.
Google says the software architecture will basically be the current Chrome browser running inside “a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel.” So in other words, it basically is the web as an OS. And applications developers will develop for it just as they would on the web. This is similar to the approach Palm has taken with its new webOS for the Palm Pre, but Google notes that any app developed for Google Chrome OS will work in any standards-compliant browser on any OS.
What Google is doing is not recreating a new kind of OS, they’re creating the best way to not need one at all.
So why release this new OS instead of using Android? After all, it has already been successfully ported to netbooks. Google admits that there is some overlap there. But a key difference they don’t mention is the ability to run on the x86 architecture. Android cannot do that (though there are ports), Chrome OS can and will. But more, Google wants to emphasize that Chrome OS is all about the web, whereas Android is about a lot of different things. Including apps that are not standard browser-based web apps.
But Chrome OS will be all about the web apps. And no doubt HTML 5 is going to be a huge part of all of this. A lot of people are still wary about running web apps for when their computer isn’t connected to the web. But HTML 5 has the potential to change that, as you’ll be able to work in the browser even when not connected, and upload when you are again.
We’re starting to see more clearly why Google’s Vic Gundotra was pushing HTML 5 so hard at Google I/O this year. Sure, part of it was about things like Google Wave, but Google Wave is just one of many new-style apps in this new Chrome OS universe.
But there is a wild card in all of this still for Microsoft: Windows 7. While Windows XP is 8 years old, and Windows Vista is just generally considered to be a bad OS for netbooks, Windows 7 could offer a good netbook experience. And Microsoft had better hope so, or its claim that 96% of netbooks run Windows is going to be very different in a year.
Google plans to release the open source code for Chrome OS later this year ahead of the launch next year. Don’t be surprised if this code drops around the same time as Windows 7. Can’t wait to hear what Microsoft will have to say about all of this. Good thing they have a huge conference next week.