The Newest Linux: Chrome OS

An innocuous posting on Google’s official blog last night has sent huge waves throughout the IT community today. In that post, Google has announced the next battle in the war for operating system dominance has begun. And Linux will be their weapon of choice.

The Google blog has often been the launch point for major news from the Mountain View, CA company, and this piece of information was no exception: Google plans to release a new Chrome Operating System, touted as an extenstion of their Google Chrome browser.

Chrome, which was just released nine months ago, has proven to be a popular offering, though not nearly as popular yet as Firefox, the open source browser from the Mozilla Project. According a recent Net Applications survey, Firefox held 22.1% of the average daily market share at the end of June, Safari 9.0%, and Chrome with 2.0%. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has slipped to 65.6% of the browser market.

The new Chrome OS “will initially be targeted at netbooks,” according to the post from Sundar Pichai, VP Product Management and Linus Upson, Engineering Director. This will be a natural target platform for the new operating system, which should be ready for consumers in the latter half of 2010.

“Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work,” wrote Pichai and Upson.

The technical details were sparse in the announcement, but some key bits of information were given. The new OS “will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips” and the new Chrome OS will be based on Linux.

“The software architecture is simple–Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac, and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform,” according to the announcement. Google plans to release the source code for Chrome OS later this year.

The blog entry was very clear to differentiate this new project from the existing Andriod project, another Linux-based platform project from Google.

Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems,” Pichai and Upson wrote, “While there are areas where Google Chrome OS and Android overlap, we believe choice will drive innovation for the benefit of everyone, including Google.”

Reaction from the IT community has been invariably along one theme: that this is the biggest challenge Microsoft has faced to date as the top operating system provider. There is little evidence that this won’t be the case, as Google has historically been a strong foil to Microsoft’s business strategy.

In the meantime, developers and contributors in the Linux and in other open source communities should be busy, as the blog entry concludes: “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.”