The tech world got an early Halloween scare Thursday evening when the Wall Street Journal reported Google would “fold” Chrome OS into Android sometime in the next two years.
The morning after, the truth is looking murkier. Google itself has denied that Chrome OS is going away, and several other reports also claim the browser-based operating system will stick around in some form.
What just happened? Let’s dive into what we know.
Why this matters: Android and Chrome OS have lived side-by-side for years, mostly in harmony. Android is optimized for phones and tablets. Chrome OS has touch capabilities but runs on laptops and desktops. While the lines between these device categories are blurring, with more shared features across the two platforms, the Journal’s report was the first recent indication that a full merger was underway. And it was the first to explicitly call Chrome OS’s future into doubt.
Death of Chrome OS? Not so fast.
Almost immediately after the Journal’s original report, conflicting stories began to pop up. One anonymous source told Business Insider that Chrome OS will live on as an option alongside Android and “a third project that combines the best of both.”
This story was soon corroborated by Recode, which reported that Chrome OS will remain available for PC makers. But starting next year, they’ll also be able to build Android-based PCs with Google’s blessing. Although we’ve seen some Android laptops and desktops before, right now the operating system isn’t really optimized for mouse and keyboard use, and isn’t conducive to multitasking. Presumably that’s going to change in the future.
Another report by TechCrunch also disputed that Chrome OS would be killed off, and on Thursday night, Google itself seemed to deny the original story. “There’s a ton of momentum for Chromebooks and we are very committed to Chrome OS,” Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s senior vice president for Android and Chrome OS, wrote on Twitter. “I just bought two for my kids for schoolwork!”
Why keep Chrome OS around? As Recode notes, Chrome OS is more secure than Android (and Windows, for that matter). The sandboxed safety of Chrome OS, along with its simplicity, has given Chromebooks and Chromeboxes traction in schools and at some businesses. Why take that away?
Still, Android is much more successful as a consumer product, and has a massive app ecosystem that could benefit laptop and desktop users. Chrome, meanwhile, has never figured out how to do apps properly.
That’s why I’m inclined to believe the follow-on reports saying Chrome OS will stick around. While it’s possible that Google’s denials are only meant to placate schools and businesses, chances are it’ll keep offering Chrome OS to them anyway. But on the consumer side, some laptop-friendly version of Android—with features borrowed from Chrome OS—will be the better option.
One more disclaimer: Even the Journal’s report claimed that unified operating system wouldn’t arrive until 2017. That’s two years away, and it’s fair to assume a lot could change between now and then. To call Chrome OS dead now would be a massive leap to conclusions.