In its most direct assault on Microsoft yet, Google on Tuesday evening announced the forthcoming release of the Google Chrome Operating System, a new open source operating system designed primarily for netbooks but also for desktop computers.Chrome OS is Google’s second operating system, after Android, the mobile device operating system that the company introduced in late 2008. That’s also about the time when Google introduced its Chrome Web browser. Chrome OS is an extension of Google’s browser code.
Though there’s some overlap between the two operating systems, Google says that choice drives innovation and benefits everyone. An apparent distinction between Chrome OS and Android is that the latter operating system is designed to work on devices like mobile phones and set-top boxes that deny users access to certain resources. Further distinctions between the two Google operating systems may emerge once the Chrome OS license is published.Chrome OS will introduce a new windowing system, presumably along the lines of GNOME or KDE, atop the Linux kernel. In a blog post, Sundar Pichai, VP of product management and engineering director Linus Upson explained, “All Web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite Web technologies.”
Chrome OS will run on x86 and ARM chips. Google says that it is working with several hardware manufacturers to deliver netbooks running Chrome OS in the second half of 2010.
Along with the mobile phone market, the netbook market is growing rapidly, in contrast to the desktop PC market. Last month, iSuppli reported that PC shipments in the first quarter of 2009 fell 23% compared with the same period in 2008, while netbook shipments grew 10% during the same time frame. Last November, IDC predicted that 42.2 million netbooks would be sold in 2012, almost four times as many as in 2008.
Microsoft expects to ship some version of Windows on most of these devices; the desktop versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7 tend to demand more computing power than most netbooks can provide. Brad Brooks, the company’s corporate VP for Windows consumer product marketing, said in February that since February 2008, the share of Windows OS on netbooks had risen from 10% to 80% a year later. The gain represents the result of a concerted effort by Microsoft to counter the spread of Linux-based netbooks.Google’s Chrome OS announcement can be seen as a response to Microsoft’s netbook campaign. And its justification for introducing Chrome OS highlights a longtime sore point for Windows users, namely long startup times. “We hear a lot from our users and their message is clear — computers need to get better,” said Pichai and Upson. “People want to get to their e-mail instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up. They want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them.”
Pichai and Upson also indicated that Chrome OS will include a variety of cloud-based services to make life easier for users, like automatic backups and software updates. The days of shrink-wrapped software sold on store shelves are numbered.In April, Vic Gundotra, VP of engineering at Google, declared, “the Web has won.” Now the fight has moved to the desktop.