Google's Chrome OS and the Year of the GNU/Linux Desktop

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Anyone who still believed that Google might be content to rule the online world while leaving the desktop to Microsoft has just been rudely disabused of this notion:

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.

Thus were confirmed persistent rumours that Google was working on an operating system, and that its Chrome browser was a step towards that:

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We're designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web.

And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don't have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

From this it's clear that this is very much an operating system for the Web, with Chrome the front end. And as for the lower levels of the stack, there's really only one option:

The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel.

Thus Google's operating system represents a further stage in the commoditisation of software, something that the appearance of GNU/Linux began all those years ago. Now, the operating system is simply there to support the browser, which becomes the main arena for interacting with applications.

That move was already implicit in both Google's increasing range of Web apps, and its launch of the lightweight Chrome browser. Chrome OS is the logical conclusion of all those moves. As Google says:

For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

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