Google released its Chrome operating system to the open-source community on Thursday and said it has designed the netbook OS to be faster, simpler and more secure than existing ones.
However, Google also made it clear that Chrome will not be able to replicate everything that other operating systems do. For example, Chrome OS will only run Web-hosted applications and its peripherals will have to comply with specific hardware reference designs. This means it will not even be able to run applications built for Google's own Android mobile operating system.
As such, when the first Chrome OS netbooks hit the market at the end of 2010, Google expects them to be "companion" devices whose owners will also have conventional PCs in their houses.
"There are applications today that aren't available on the Web. We're really focused, as the use case for this device, that most people who buy this device next year, we expect them to have another machine [with a conventional operating system] at home," said Sundar Pichai, vice president of Product Management at Google. "The goal of this device is for it to be a delightful experience for you to be on the Web. That's the scenario we're focusing on."
"There will be some things this will not be able to do. If you're a lawyer and are planning to spend your entire day editing contracts back and forth, this isn't the right machine for you," Pichai added.
As such, it seems that the Linux-based Chrome OS will also require that end-users be very comfortable with cloud computing and its basic idea of keeping applications and their data stored in a vendor data center.
In exchange, Google is promising an operating system that it says will be exponentially faster at booting up and significantly more secure than conventional PC operating sytems like Microsoft's Windows and Apple's Mac OS.
In a demo, Google officials showed a Chrome OS device booting up in seven seconds, and said they hope to make that even faster. The Chrome OS interface will be Google's Chrome browser and will be based on application tabs. Because Chrome OS doesn't need the usual OS software to support local applications and processes, it can run much faster.
For security, Chrome OS places each application within what Google calls a "security sandbox," stripping applications of the usual, broad access rights they have in conventional operating systems, and thus limiting their ability to do damage if compromised by malware. If Chrome OS detects a security problem, it has been designed to reboot itself to address the problem.
"Call us dumb businessmen, but we're really focused on user needs ... and I think there is a real user need to be able to use computers easily," said Google co-founder Sergey Brin.