Google released its formerly mysterious Chrome Operating System to open source Nov. 19.
While geeks the world over may be playing with the code, helping to mold the finished product, those who attended or watched the launch event remotely learned more about Google's vision for the future of computing.
Chrome OS is a sort of Web operating system that boots up a netbook in a fraction of the time it takes to start today's existing computers, with Web applications loading in just a few more seconds. Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management for Google, noted that he and his team are trying to make the Chrome OS load time closer to that of a television than a computer.
To do this, the Chrome OS team has bypassed many of the computing processes associated with traditional operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, Apple's Mac OS X and other today's current Linux distributions, such as Red Hat or SuSe.
Those OS' jump through several hoops before users can access their data, explained Matt Papakipos, engineering director for Chrome OS, who went through a technical preview of Chrome OS
For example, there's a firmware process, a boot loader, the OS' kernel loads, system services start, then start-up apps, and then a user has to click to start the Web browser. Then the computer begins to look for a floppy drive that no longer exists, bogging down the OS.
With Chrome OS, the boot loader is merged into a custom firmware startup. Then there is an optimized kernel to eliminate startup services. Because Chrome OS won't run local applications, it doesn't have to start up background services to prep apps to load. Finally, the Chrome browser loads automatically.
On the security side, Papakipos also said Chrome OS executes a verified boot, checking to make sure a Chrome OS user's specific OS instantiation is running what it should be running. Chrome OS auto-updates itself, providing patches where necessary.
Every component of Chrome OS, from firmware, to the kernel, to the file, has a cryptographic signature attached to them. "It's as if each one were a document that's signed at the bottom with a John Hancock saying 'Yes, this is the right set of bits," Papakipos said.
If a potentially crushing malware instance is detected, the computer will then re-image itself if necessary, another departure from the desktop operating system model.