Though there was no formal Chrome OS release announcement made today by Google, the Mountain View, CA company did give media a sneak peek at the new Linux-based operating system while announcing that as of today, the entire Chrome OS project will be available for open source development.
The new platform, which features software components from the Linux kernel, Ubuntu, and Moblin, will likely be made available for release by the end of 2010, but users of existing PCs may be disappointed to learn that Chrome OS will only support netbook-like devices with solid-state storage drives, so for now, Google is not bringing this product to the entire PC-platform market.
And, while end users wait for more details on the Chrome OS platform, Linux users will soon be given a chance to use the Chrome browser. Pichai said that both Chrome for Linux and Chrome for Mac will be made available by the end of this year.
Google is aiming for a very specific slice of the user market: users who spend much of their time and effort working on and visiting the Internet. These users will be provided with a platform that will solely drive web applications, according to Google VP of Product Management Sundar Pichai, who led today’s demonstration.
Google sees this as a target that is widening every day: currently millions of users are working out in the cloud, and netbook hardware sales are growing, despite the worst economy since the Great Depression. Pichai also highlighted that the convergence trend of laptops getting smaller as netbooks, while smartphones are growing into tablet-like devices. This meeting of a common web-enabled platform is where Google wants Chrome OS to be.
Like the Chrome browser, the Chrome OS will feature speed, simplicity, and security, Google’s mantra for a faster, more stable user experience. An early version of the user interface appears in Figure 1, where the influence of the Chrome browser are very apparent.
Open applications appear as application tabs, with lightweight persistent panels appearing to provide services like chats, media viewing, and the like (see Figure 2). To open applications, users will be able to access an Application Menu page, shown in Figure 3.
The main use-case Google seems to be focusing on is the web-connected user, and indeed the reference protocols they are targeting is next-gen 802.11n wifi protocols. But, while all user data will be stored out on the cloud, user data can be cached so that if the Internet is not available, Chrome OS users can still access and manipulate their data until access is restored.
Because of this web-based focus, Google can make a lot of changes to the traditional operating system model. Boot times can become much faster (today’s demo was up and running in seven seconds, and Pichai emphasized that Google is working on this to get it even faster.
Without native binary applications running on Chrome OS, there are much fewer vectors for malicious code to come into a Chrome-loaded systems, according to Matt Papakipos, engineering director for Chrome OS. Every incoming web application will be individually verified at boot time, Papakipos described, and if any of them do not match known signatures, the app will be dumped and a new version from a verified source will be located and downloaded.
“Essentially we repair the system automatically by re-imaging your computer,” Papakipos told the media audience.
Another way the security model differs is how applications are treated. In current traditional operating systems, applications are trusted and given the same security privileges of the user to get work done. Chrome OS will have a browser-like security model, where no application is trusted and all apps are treated as potentially hostile.
While they were not too explicit on the details, the two Google presenters outlined the go-to-market strategy for the Chrome OS in 2010. Currently, Google is working with hardware partners to define the reference set of components that can run Chrome OS. Among that reference set of requirements will be a push toward netbooks that more powerful. “We are working with key partners to see slightly larger netbooks, with full keyboards and larger displays,” Pichai said.