My email inbox was filled this morning with questions and opinions after news came out about Google’s new Chrome OS. Was this another frontal assault on Microsoft by the Googleplex? Is Google becoming too big and powerful? What’s going on?
There’s less to this announcement than breathless pundits are panting. Nobody should be surprised that Google wants to enable the development of standalone Internet devices. Chrome OS is an obvious extension of what the company is already doing with the Chrome browser and Android mobile platform.
Think about the classic functions of an operating system. It’s a program loader. It provides an abstraction layer for hardware. It allocates shared hardware resources, like processor time, memory and storage. It manages IO devices, including the focus of input devices. It provides a consistent user interface. It provides security between different processes. Stuff like that.
If your focus is to provide Internet access for the masses, using devices like netbooks, nettops and handhelds, you don’t need the heft or bloat of full-featured, industrial-strength operating systems like Windows XP, Windows 7 or Mac OS X. You want something thinner.
The best thin operating system for smaller Internet-centric devices is Moblin. However, Moblin has one serious flaw: The project is driven by Intel, and the company’s primary motivation is to get the market to adopt its Atom processors. Thus, Moblin is designed to freeze out competing chips, such as anything based on ARM. Until Moblin (recently put under the auspices of the Linux Foundation) becomes truly hardware-agnostic, its potential is limited.
That brings us to Chrome OS. Is it a competitor to Windows or Mac OS X? I don’t see it. What I do see is that Chrome, when it appears, will be essentially a delivery platform for browser-based computing using the Chrome browser.
Currently, Chrome is in the second tier of browsers, along with Safari and Opera. Chrome OS will move it into the first tier. Software developers must begin making sure that their applications run cleanly in the Chrome browser – just like they must do today with Internet Explorer.
And that, my friends, is all that this announcement means.