Google Chrome OS: Facts and Rumours

Written by Tim Smalley

July 21, 2009 | 14:39

Tags: #analysis #commentary #netbooks #os #os-x #windows

Companies: #chrome #google

Will Google Chrome OS really matter?

Earlier this month, Google announced its intentions to get into the operating system game with Google Chrome OS, a lightweight operating system designed to run on netbooks and desktop PCs.

While Google has said very little about the new operating system (it was announced with this blog post, commentators have been quick to jump to conclusions about how Chrome OS is going to beat Microsoft into a pulp or how it's going to fall flat on its face.

We've not commented a great deal on Chrome OS thus far, mainly because there's a lot that Google has left unanswered, but we have spent time analysing what Google did say. In addition, we've collected some of the best commentary from the company's many followers who've added their two penneth to the debate over the past couple of weeks.

In many respects, Google is looking to reinvent the wheel - with various versions of Windows, Linux and OS X available, PCs aren't short of operating systems. However, the wheel we've got at the moment isn't perfectly round and so it doesn't come across as a completely pointless exercise; instead, we may have a scenario where Google doesn't succeed in the operating system market, but it does shake things up enough for the established parties to consider taking a slightly different approach to OS design.

I think it's fair to say that all of us can agree that there are problems and frustrations with most of today's operating systems. Windows' security issues have been well documented and Microsoft's competitors often poke fun at antiquated parts of the OS such as the registry; Linux is often seen as too complicated for the lay person, and OS X only runs on Apple hardware, while neither of the latter two is renowned for gaming prowess.Google Chrome OS: facts and rumours Will Google Chrome OS really matter?

Google agrees with these sentiments and believes that by going back to the basics with Chrome OS, it can fix many of the problems with other operating systems. "It's our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be," read the Google announcement. "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 first statement has "both strategic and practical implications", said John Timmer at Ars Technica. Strategically, Chrome OS "clearly involves a heavy dose of Google-driven Web apps" and users will save their data in the cloud. Technologically, Chrome OS will be able to "cut down on the hassles related to restarting and hibernating" because all of the key applications will reside online.

In terms of security, Google said it is "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." With that in mind, the Chrome browsers sandbox browsing and process isolation will likely be key to the Chrome OS's security infrastructure.

Unfortunately though, Google's statement on security wasn't greeted with open arms. "It's an idiotic claim," said Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer at BT. "It was mathematically proved decades ago that it is impossible - not an engineering impossibility, not technologically impossible, but the 2+2=3 kind of impossible - to create an operating system that is immune to viruses." Schneier said that by creating an OS from scratch with security in mind could make for a more secure OS, but that's different to the promise that users won't have to deal with viruses or malware.

Other security experts agreed with Schneier's assertion that security would improve if it was taken into account from the outset. "I think the Google guys are right," said Brian Chess, co-founder and chief security officer at Fortify Software. "They could make a system that is significantly better from a security standpoint than the systems most people use today."
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