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Google morphs Chrome OS into netbook thin client

'Chromotes' legacy PC apps inside browser

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Exclusive Google's Chrome OS — the operating system that moves all apps and data into a web browser — will provide remote access to "legacy PC applications" through a mystery process the company calls Chromoting, according to an email from a Google employee.

In a message posted by a third party to a public mailing list dedicated to the as-yet-unreleased Chrome OS, Google software engineer Gary Kačmarčík confirms the existence of Chromoting but gives few details. "We're adding new capabilities all the time," the email reads. "With this functionality (unofficially named 'chromoting'), Chrome OS will not only be [a] great platform for running modern web apps, but will also enable you to access legacy PC applications right within the browser."

Kačmarčík calls this an "official" statement.

Neither Google nor Gary Kačmarčík has responded to requests for comment. According to his LinkedIn profile, Kačmarčík is a former Microsoft software design engineer. He's been at Google since 2006, and he works in the greater Seattle, Washington area, near Microsoft headquarters.

In the email, Kačmarčík says that Chromoting is "something like" Remote Desktop Connection, the Microsoft Windows service that gives you real-time access to distant PCs. Presumably, this means that Chrome OS will let you access applications running on your existing Windows, Linux, or Mac desktop. But in his email, Kačmarčík declined to elaborate.

Chrome OS is essentially Google's Chrome web browser running atop a Goobuntu flavor of Linux. It will not run local applications other than the browser itself. All other apps will be accessed inside the browser, and this would now seem to include applications running on remote machines.

The OS is not due for official release until the end of the year, when it will debut on netbooks. Last fall, however, Google released a snapshot of code under the aegis of the Chromium OS project, and Kačmarčík's email was posted to the Chromium discussion list by a non-Google developer.

Chromium OS source code includes references to a "chromoting plug-in," and Kačmarčík mentions chromoting code during recent Chromimum IRC discussions.

Accessing remote applications via a web browser is nothing new. Applications like LogMeIn and GoToMyPC have offered this sort of thing for a decade. With these services, you install a small client on your desktop PC or Mac, and once you do, you can drive that machine's operating system — including applications — from a web browser running on a separate system.

In order to access your remote desktop, you must also download a small client alongside your browser. But this is a tiny piece of code. Typically, it can be downloaded in a matter of seconds.

Presumably, Google will include this sort of mini-client with Chrome OS as a plug-in, and you'll then download a larger client on your existing desktop PC in order to access its applications.

Yes, this is a roundabout way of running desktop apps. But with Chrome OS, Google is intent on keeping everything inside the browser. According to Google, this is partly an effort to improve system security, but the company also has a financial interest in moving more activity and more data onto the net: more web activity means more web ads, and more web data stored on Google servers means more targeted ads.

Last month, the company announced that would allow printing from the OS by routing jobs through its servers and back down to desktop PCs that, unlike Chrome OS, run print drivers.

Some might call this progress. Others might call it forcing the issue. But we know where Google stands. Notice that Kačmarčík dubbed them "legacy PC applications". ®

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