It’s been an exciting nine months since we launched the Google Chrome browser. Already, over 30 million people use it regularly. We designed Google Chrome for people who live on the web — searching for information, checking email, catching up on the news, shopping or just staying in touch with friends. However, the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web. So today, we’re announcing a new project that’s a natural extension of Google Chrome — the Google Chrome Operating System. It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be.
Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we’re already talking to partners about the project, and we’ll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.
The Chrome OS is based on Linux and will run on both x86 and ARM microprocessors and Google claims to be "working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year." Google’s vision is of a Web operating system running a browser and running Web applications within that instead of traditional PC applications. As for overlap with Google’s Android operating system seen mostly on cell phones, here’s the official delineation:
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.
Assuming that Google’s vision of a Web operating system and applications appeals to budget netbook buyers as much as shaving the Windows XP license fee, it will definitely impact Microsoft’s Client operating system business which has already been hit by netbooks running the low-priced Windows XP instead of Vista.
However, that is a big assumption since many netbook purchasers are buying them as cheap notebook PCs and expect to run the usual local PC applications (open source or otherwise). As for regular notebook and desktop PC buyers, it harks back to the Linux versus Windows competition for client PCs which so far has not been overly kind to Linux. Still, Google gets points for making things interesting for Microsoft and perhaps they will actually make inroads onto Microsoft’s turf.
After an inadvertent unveiling yesterday, Google today will officially launch a beta of an open source Web browser called Chrome in 100 countries for Windows users only. There’s a comic book explaining the technical aspects, but the net is that Chrome is designed to be a more reliable foundation for Web browsing and running serious applications than today’s Web browsers:
On the surface, we designed a browser window that is streamlined and simple. To most people, it isn’t the browser that matters. It’s only a tool to run the important stuff — the pages, sites and applications that make up the web. Like the classic Google homepage, Google Chrome is clean and fast. It gets out of your way and gets you where you want to go.
I certainly sympathize with the reliability and speed objectives, but have to observe that a good deal of useful Internet Explorer and Firefox functionality is provided by add-ons (both commercial and free) and there will be a dearth of them initially for Chrome. (I am assuming they are permitted.) Still, Chrome seems to be a long term Google project so plug-in availability will surely evolve with time.
The bigger question, of course, is how Chrome will affect Internet Explorer and Firefox. For the former, the competition will undoubtedly spur Microsoft to greater efforts than their sometimes desultory development of IE, since they will rightly view Chrome as yet another attempt by Google to move applications from the Windows client to the Web.
As for Firefox, the folks at Mozilla are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the obvious competitive threat while proceeding with their normally aggressive development schedule. That surely is the right approach for them since Google is famous for launching numerous ships, many of which gain little headway. Presumably Mozilla’s lucrative advertising deal with Google is still good, but adoption numbers may drop now that Google has a new favorite browser.
Although I’m sure Google would be thrilled if Chrome grabbed a sizable chunk of market share, winning a "browser war" is not its real goal. Its real goal, embedded in Chrome’s open-source code, is to upgrade the capabilities of all browsers so that they can better support (and eventually disappear behind) the applications. The browser may be the medium, but the applications are the message.