Ars Technica has received confirmation from two sources that Google is working on new software named Google Chrome OS, which will offer a cloud-based, OS experience around the browser. UPDATE: It's official. It's coming in the second half of 2010.
Google says the OS is open source and lightweight, allowing users super quick access to the web. They claim the OS will be virus free (the security architecture is entirely new), and run a newly-designed windowing system on top of a Linux kernel that will be compatible with x86 and ARM processors alike. Though they were quick to mention this was separate from Android, they also conceded there would be some overlap in concept and functionality between the two platforms.
While the discussion of specific apps (and how they will work) was vague, Google made reference to a developer ecosystem that will be heavily web-based, and apps would be compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux (obviously). In a nutshell, it looks like Google Chrome OS is about simplicity, speed, safety, and cloud computing.
The announcement of Google Chrome OS is a big step forward for a company who slowly and subtly wedged their way into web app development. Google says that Chrome OS is intended for "power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems." So what does this mean for Google, and more importantly, what does this mean for Microsoft and Apple?
I think that Google has primed themselves to take a big chunk out of the mainstream computing market. That's not to say that you or I will be exclusively using Chrome OS, but with the internet becoming more and more accessible from ANYWHERE, our parents, grandparents and technophobic siblings probably will be converts. Most of them are already familiar with Google as a brand, and frustrated in trying to learn the intricacies of current operating systems.
And even for those of us who consider ourselves technologically advanced, how much of the desktop experience have Google's web apps already replaced? We'll still have our main computers, but what will be running on our netbooks or old laptops that sit in the living room?
More and more, I find myself working almost exclusively with apps that exist entirely on the web, or with clients that connect to web services. The only apps I use that aren't cloud-happy are either utilities, media players or photo/video editors. And even then, those are heading in that web-centric direction. Cloud computing has been bringing us closer and closer to the mainframe days of yore. Google wants to be the only backbone working behind the scenes. By saying they're keeping Chrome OS app development web-centric and platform-agnostic, they're slowly luring us techies into their web.
Still, Windows and OSX will always have a spacious home in the computer world, undoubtedly. Some apps will always require native architecture, and the businessmen, code-monkeys, graphic designers, video editors and other connoisseurs of nuanced computing would be foolhardy to try and work strictly in the cloud.
But the final hurdle for Google to overcome is easy, accessible online storage. Will they be able to go after Amazon's S3 cloud servers? And perhaps more importantly, will they be able to offer the service for free? If they can let us really extend our hard drives into the cloud, look out. Chrome OS will be a force to be reckoned with.