After years of speculation that Google was planning on launching an operating system, Google has confirmed that… it’s planning on launching an operating system. At launch, the open source, Linux-based OS will be a light weight system targeted specifically at netbooks, but it should run on any x86 or ARM-based computers. The source code should be available later this year, and netbooks running the operating system should hit the streets in the second half of 2010. What does that mean for all the PC makers who have been working to shove Google Android (an operating system specifically designed for smartphones) onto netbooks recently?
Google, of course, is best known for providing a search engine and a suite of web-based tools. Last year the company introduced the Google Chrome web browser, which made sense, since it’s a browser designed to play well with those web services. And the new operating system is designed around Chrome, and in fact will be called the Google Chrome Operating System. According to the product announcement, most of today’s operating systems were designed pre-web. Chrome Operating System will be designed around the browser and web apps. Developers that want to write apps for Google Chrome will be able to develop them as web apps, which will also be able to run on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Google says the OS is designed to be fast and light weight (meaning it should have a small memory and storage footprint), and to get you onto the web within a few seconds of hitting the power button. The user interface will also be light-weight, and most of the user experience will be web-based.
In other words, the Google Chrome Operating System will finally make the word “netbook” make sense. People have been using the word for almost two years to describe small, light, and cheap computers with relatively slow processors and small amounts of RAM and storage. The idea is that these little laptops are good for interacting with the web, but not much else. But the truth of the matter is they’re still computers, capable of running full desktop apps including Office, Photoshop, and even a number of video games, as well as a web browser and other internet apps.
Google, on the other hand, deals almost exclusively in internet-based applications (with the possible exception of applications like Google Desktop, which indexes your computer’s files, but also your emails and other online information and which uses a web browser-based interface). So it makes sense that Google Chrome Operating System will be targeted heavily at people who primarily want to use web-based apps.
Google isn’t the first company to come up with this idea. Tariq Krim’s Jolicloud operating system attempts to blur the lines between desktop and web apps, by letting you “install” web applications like Twitter, Facebook, or Gmail to your desktop using Mozilla Prism. But Google is obviously a much bigger name than Jolicloud, and has the potential to make a much bigger splash.
But that raises the question: Do you really want or need an operating system that’s primarily aimed at letting you connect to web apps from your desktop? Or would you rather have a fuller featured operating system that lets you run web apps through a browser, and desktop apps through the standard user interface? And if you prefer the latter, would a 5-second bootup time change your opinion at all? Sound off in the comments.