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Google renews vows with Chrome OS

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Google I/O One day, Google says, it will merge Android and Chrome OS. But at the moment, despite Android's ever-expanding influence, the web colossus is intent on delivering Chrome OS before the end of the year, complete with its inability to run local applications or store local data.

"Chrome is part of our strategy to make the web more powerful," Google vice president of engineering Vic Gundotra told reporters last week at the company's annual developer conference in San Francisco, referring to the Chrome browser, the basis for Chrome OS.

"Most users still — although it's changing — most users still access the web from a PC or a notebook. The impact that Chrome has had on the web ecosystem has been huge...Think about how Chrome became the fastest browser and how it impacted all the browsers.

"Chrome OS is going to use that same strategy to make the web better."

Chrome OS is essentially the Chrome browser running a Goobuntu flavor of Linux, and the browser is the only local application. The platform is also designed to keep all data in the proverbial "cloud," though some local caching will be permitted. "There's a real user need to be able to use computers easily," Google co-founder Sergey Brin said when a preliminary version of the OS was unveiled last fall. "We believe the web platform is a much simpler way, where the machines are essentially stateless or cache-like."

But Chrome OS also pushes users closer to, well, Google. And the more you use its online services, the more opportunities the company has to collect your data — and serve you ads.

But one way or another, the project will be merged with Android. Gundotra acknowledged as much at Google I/O, echoing what Sergey Brin has said in the past. The question is whether Google will eventually abandon its all-web, all-the-time strategy.

At the moment, Android is riding high, and Gundotra seemed to indicate this may affect the future of Chrome OS. Last week, as the company rolled out a new version of Android for mobiles and announced that Android sales had reached 100,000 a day, it also uncloaked a TV settop box platform based on the OS — Google TV — and Verizon has said that it's teaming with Google on an Android tablet.

At first, Gundotra — a former Microsoftee — referred to Google's settop platform as, um, WebTV. But then he caught himself. "The momentum right now is behind Android. I think that's what you say saw with WebTV — did I just say WebTV? - what you saw with Google TV, which takes the Android operating system and marries it to the Chrome browser. But we will be pliable. We'll change and adjust our strategy as we continue to move forward."

In recent weeks, some pundits have called on Google to bury Chrome OS straightaway, but clearly, this isn't in the cards. Fundamentally, the company believes in putting as much as possible on the net, and it sees Chrome OS as path to that end. "Our long-term view is that it's strategic to our business to make the web better," Gundotra said.

And this was quickly echoed by Android project leader Andy Rubin. "Another way to say that is that we think it's important for Google to participate in the evolution of web technologies," he said.

When one reporter argued that the success of Android had proven that it and not Chrome OS is the way forward, Rubin - the man who invented Android - was (very) quick to take exception. "I should point out that Chrome OS hasn't launched yet," he said. ®

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