Feeds

Google Chrome OS: unlike Android, it's open source

The code's already there. If anyone wants it

High performance access to file storage

Code freeze imminent. If you want it

Judging from Hexxeh's conversations with Google developers, Chrome OS code will be frozen this week. He predicts that the first machines will be unveiled later in the month, as separate rumors have indicated. Google merely says — as it has always said — that machines will arrive by the end of the year.

These will be netbooks — and maybe tablets as well. And they'll be priced not unlike "what computer buyers expect today." But, according to Google's pitch, they'll be easier to use than the average notebook — and more secure.

Google's isn't just building a new OS. It's rebuilding the netbook itself. "We are working on the Chrome OS image — the software — but in addition to that, we are actually going and working with partners to specify components at the hardware level," Google VP of product management Sundar Pichai said last fall. "We really want software to understand the underlying hardware so we can make it much faster and more secure. It's an important part of what we're trying to do."

Most notably, Chrome OS doesn't run on hard drives. It runs on solid state devices, part of Google's effort to improve boot times. In the fall, Google showed off a Chrome OS netbook that booted in seven seconds, and by way of system firmware, it's working to reduce that time even more. As we said, the firmware is the one major part of the project that isn't "open." And considering what a large role it plays, you could argue that, in fact, Chrome OS is closed to unofficial partners. But this work may eventually be released as well.

Chrome OS panels

More Chrome OS (click to enlarge)

In limiting all apps to the web and confining each app to its own sandbox, Google also claims the Chrome netbook is more secure than today's machines. And the ultimate goal is to build an OS that can verify its own integrity and reload itself if necessary. But whatever Chrome OS gains in the areas of boot time and security, it loses a few points when you consider that it can't, well, run local applications.

If you don't have a net connection, a Chrome OS machine is bit tongue tied — though Google is offering tools that let applications operate offline (up to a point). And there are still certain advantages to running local applications. "There are applications today that are not available on the web," Pichai said. "There will be some things this will not be able to do."

In an effort to shrink the gap between local apps and web apps, Google is building Native Client, a Chrome plug-in that runs native code inside the browser. But it seems that Native Client — another open source project — won't quite be ready in time for the release of Chrome OS.

In May, Pichai unveiled a working prototype of the Chrome Web Store, which will offer up web apps for Chrome and Chrome OS, and among the apps "on sale" was a version of Lego Star Wars built to run on Native Client. Earlier this fall, when we spoke to David Helgason, the CEO and co-founder of Unity, the outfit that's working with Google on the app, he indicated Native Client wasn't as far along as it needed to be. Last week, we asked him again about the progress of the plug-in, and he declined to comment.

Some would say this is no great loss. Native Client undermines Google's ostensible commitment to web standards. But the point is that Chrome OS will face an uphill battle to win converts in a world that includes so many other devices that don't artificially limit themselves to the web. Pichai says that the Chrome OS netbook will be a "second machine" for most buyers. But so is the iPad.

Unlike iOS, Chrome OS is open source. But that sells only so many machines. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Windows 8.1, which you probably haven't upgraded to yet, ALREADY OBSOLETE
Pre-Update versions of new Windows version will no longer support patches
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
OpenSSL Heartbleed: Bloody nose for open-source bleeding hearts
Bloke behind the cockup says not enough people are helping crucial crypto project
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Windows XP still has 27 per cent market share on its deathbed
Windows 7 making some gains on XP Death Day
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
US taxman blows Win XP deadline, must now spend millions on custom support
Gov't IT likened to 'a Model T with a lot of things on top of it'
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.