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Google’s new OS marries Linux and Chrome

Jul 8, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 4 views

[Updated: 10:45AM] — Google announced an open source operating system aimed at netbooks that combines the Linux kernel with its Chrome browser. Google will release open source code for the Google Chrome Operating System later this year and ship a final version in the second half of 2010, says the company.

Although similarly derived from a Linux kernel and offered as open source software, Chrome OS is separate from Android, says the blog by Google VP, Product Management, Sundar Pichai, and the appropriately named Google Engineering Director Linus Upson.

Whereas Android was designed to scale from cellphones "to set-top boxes to netbooks," according to the blog, the lightweight Chrome OS will range from "small netbooks to full-size desktop systems," and be marketed for "people who spend most of their time on the web." The blog did note, however, that there could be some overlap between the two platforms.

According to Google, its Chrome browser is already used by 30 million people after only nine months on the market. Chrome OS is billed as a "natural extension" of the Chrome browser, as well as "our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be," says the blog.

The platform will be characterized by "speed, simplicity and security." It will offer a minimal UI, as well as boot-up to the web in only a few seconds, says Google. In addition, Chrome OS will be free of viruses, malware, and security updates, says the blog.

A cross platform OS?

Running on both x86 and ARM processors Google Chrome OS is said to offer a simple architecture that consists of "Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel," says the blog. Software development will take advantage of typical web tools, and the resulting applications will also run on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux OSes, "giving developers the largest user base of any platform."

Google is working now with OEMs to bring netbooks to market next year, adds the blog, noting that more updates on Chrome OS will be available in the fall. "We're definitely going to need a lot of help from the open source community to accomplish this vision," concludes the post.

Google Chrome background

Introduced last September as an open source browser for Windows, Google Chrome was released in a developer version for Linux and MacOS last month (see download link farther below). Chrome features a new JavaScript engine, a private browsing mode, and tabs whose memory areas are protected from one another. Each tab is said to operate as a separate process, so if one tab crashes or otherwise misbehaves, the browser will remain stable.

The Chrome browser is based on WebKit, an HTML rendering engine derived from the KHTML rendering engine maintained by the KDE project. Best-known for its use behind the scenes in Windows, OS X, and iPhone versions of Apple's Safari browser. Other users of WebKit include Android, Nokia's Qt framework, and Windows Mobile (via Torch Mobile's Iris Browser). WebKit has earned a reputation for fast performance, advanced support for "Web 2.0" features such as AJAX (asynchronous Javascript), and a small footprint.

Wowser: an open-mouthed instant analysis

Okay, so the prospect of Google building a Windows-killer OS using Chrome has been speculated since Chrome first burst on the scene, but this soon? What's more, it seemed more likely that Google would combine Chrome with Android, but apparently the technology giant is in agreement with a growing number of developers and observers, including most recently, a top ARM strategist, that Android is not suited for larger form factor computing experiences.

Can Google really build a polished OS so quickly? Well, with Linux and Chrome already at hand, much of the hard work is already done, and Google's Android experience will certainly prepare it for the tough road ahead. While the company claims that Chrome OS is "separate" from Android, it seems likely that at least some code will be shared by the platforms.

Meanwhile, if Chrome OS is as bare-bones as Google suggests, this will not be the same monumental task, as say building a full Linux distro from scratch, let alone reinventing Windows.

Are users really ready to exist almost entirely on the web and be willing to forego some of the PC-oriented extras? We may already be there, but without an OS, even a Linux distro, that truly hits that sweetspot between simplicity and need. If Chrome OS apps can really run in non-crippled fashion on other browsers, Microsoft, Apple, and even other Linux distro vendors like Canonical, could have some very stiff competition indeed.

With Microsoft downsizing Windows to a netbook friendly Windows 7 and Google upsizing Chrome to a netbook OS, other mobile stacks may also be on the move.  One promising attempt at a web-centric OS for netbooks is the Intel-backed Moblin v2, which has been winning rave reviews. With the recent Intel/Nokia partnership, Intel appears to want to add telephony to Moblin to compete with high end smartphones running Android and other OSes. For its part, Nokia is looking to move its own Maemo distribution up downward into smartphones, and possibly upward to netbook, territory.

Should the Linux-based Moblin and Maemo platforms merge, or at least, as suggested by the partners, share standards and open source code, there may be even more incentive to move upward into the desktop realm as well. If Chrome OS can put a serious chink in Microsoft's market dominance, it will only embolden other Linux contenders to charge in after. That is if Chrome OS and Android haven't already dominated the open source realm entirely.

Linux developers may not know whether to celebrate or hide in a cave. First, Google's Android sucks much of the life out of the more native-Linux LiMo platform, then Intel readies itself to acquire Wind River, and Nokia shows signs of jumping further into Linux, with a newly open source Symbian in tow. And now this.

The big boys have moved in, which while validating Linux and open source, may also threaten some of the qualities that made them attractive in the first place. Then again, people said the same thing when IBM muscled into the Linux world, and Linux has grown even faster.


Chrome OS will be released in an early version as open source code this fall, with a final version arriving for netbooks in the second half of 2010, says Google. The Google blog may be found here.

Development builds for the new Linux version of the Google Chrome browser (not the OS) may be found here.

Over at eWEEK, Clint Boulton's take on the announcement may be found here.

This article was originally published on and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

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