Google engineers were quite vague in their description about what its new Google Chrome OS would look and feel like, telling the high-tech world that the user interface is “minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the Web.”
Chrome OS, which has all the reporting world hailing it as the Microsoft Windows killer or as a non-player, is also supposed to be “fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the Web in a few seconds.” A Google spokesperson declined to comment about the look and feel of Chrome beyond the blog post from Tuesday night.
However, a source with knowledge of Google’s plans regarding the OS told eWEEK that Google has not finalized many of the design decisions and that Google is still baking the back-end code for the product. Just as Windows sits quietly in the background while Microsoft Office and other applications run on top of it, Chrome will be fairly invisible. The user experience will take place in the browser, where everything will run as a Web app.
Saul Hansell of The New York Times echoed this notion in a blog post July 9: “It will be built on a simple version of Linux that is meant to run only one application: the Chrome browser. Google’s idea is that anything for which you may have wanted a separate software program can be done within the browser instead. Never mind all the other functions and add-on programs you find in Windows.”
Google claimed July 8 that it is currently working with Acer, Adobe, Asus, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba to get Chrome OS into the market.
Google could easily change the user interface several times, and the product may even be faster once it reaches netbooks in 2010 to 2011, if it even sees the light of day that soon. Why doubt Google’s bid to get Chrome OS to market in 2010?
Will Chrome OS Fork Linux?
Google is not used to releasing finished products, so creating an operating system, even one based on open source, is bound to be a challenge. Android took a few years of development before it saw the light of day, and it is continually being tweaked and improved. Expect Google to take great pains to release a stable product.
After all, this is a platform on which Web apps will run, not just a Web app that can be patched up with a few lines of code. A broken OS means a broken computer. A broken computer means a busted plan for Google. Failure here could be devastating to a company trying to beat Microsoft at its favorite game.
Assuming Chrome OS does emerge on netbooks in the next two years, a lot can happen between now and then. Microsoft Windows XP could be thrashing the netbook space. For all of the glory that Ubuntu on Asus EEE PCS has brought to the Linux space, Linux is not the most user-friendly distribution for people groomed on Windows.
IDC analyst Al Gillen told eWEEK that two things could happen. Google could bring great success to Linux, assuming that Chrome OS manifests itself as a Linux-based distribution such as Ubuntu and Red Hat. Or maybe the “applications don’t run on conventional Linux, maybe it’s a ‘start-from-scratch’ approach.”
This would be bad for everyone, Gillen argued, because Linux already has a healthy ecosystem: “If Google adds too much customization, and ends up forking the code in the process, that creates an interesting dilemma for the greater Linux community – does the community endorse Google’s approach, or does the community unite to encourage Google to not fork the base OS? Two Linux kernels is not better than one.”
However, if Google is introducing an entirely new windowing environment, Gillen believes Google can really differentiate itself without disrupting the application portfolio that exists for Linux.
“I can see a scenario where Google could take the desktop into the future, and offer true integration of the Web into the desktop — something that, to date, we really have not seen,” Gillen wrote. Then again, the Intel-led open-source Moblin effort is doing some of this in netbooks, so is Google only further fragmenting the market?
This wouldn’t be the first time Google has been accused of fragmentation in the market; Sun Microsystems believes Android only creates another fork for Java. Clearly, many questions remain. When will Google provide the answers?