Google’s Chrome OS doesn’t signal the apocalypse for Apple and Microsoft, but that doesn’t mean the operating system won’t succeed when it arrives next year. Just like the Chrome Web browser, Google’s carving out a small slice of the market for people who want the company’s buzzwords of speed, security and simplicity. Over time, the legion of Chrome OS fans will grow, and Google will look at its operating system as a success, not a failure.
Google still hasn’t said how much Chrome OS machines will cost, but there are a couple things to remember: First, the operating system is free, so netbook manufacturers can dodge the licensing costs of Windows machines. Also, Chrome OS machines will run on solid state drives, which could drive the price up, but because there’s hardly any local storage involved, the size of these drives–and, therefore, the cost–will be minimal, and will decrease over time with no need to boost capacity.
The Cloud Rules
Eventually, Google will convince people that their data is safe in the cloud, mostly because Google users’ personal information is already up there. Yes, you’re in trouble if there’s some massive server failure, but what are the odds of that compared to your netbook getting stolen or broken? but you can always recover invoices and other vital documents from the cloud.
Chrome OS will run on a set of reference hardware that will be developed and sold by device OEMs. Google is working directly with manufacturers to specify which hardware components will be supported. Conspicuously, hard drives won’t be on the list. Though the OS is open source, you won’t be able to download it and install it on any device you happen to have. Instead, you’ll have to run it on a Chrome OS-specific device comprised of hardware components that are explicitly supported by the OS.
One expected advantage of Chrome OS will be security. In contrast to the established PC model, in which applications run locally on the drive and user data is generally stored locally as well, Chrome OS will not allow applications to install locally or make changes to the operating system. At the same time, it will automatically sync all user data to the cloud. Meanwhile the operating system will automatically update itself all the time.
User data on every Chrome device will be encrypted, a move that is intended to protect users in the event that their device is lost or stolen. Matt Papakipos, engineering director on the projected, summed up this move by saying, “If I lose my Chrome OS machine, I should be able to go get a new machine, and have everything back up running in seconds” via the automated cloud backups.
Chrome OS “feels much more like a television than a computer.” Turn it, it starts right away, and you’re on the Web by default. In the demo, Chrome did in fact boot almost instantly on the Eee PC netbook. This is in part because the OS is just reading out of RAM rather than a magnetic drive. But there are other reasons that the OS boots and runs more quickly than most other PCs.
Chrome OS consists of custom firmware, a small kernel optimized to run on a short list of reference devices, and the Chrome browser. Because the list of supported hardware is short, the OS is designed without unnecessary background device support. This prevents the operating system from wasting time looking for devices that aren’t there (such as floppy drives), which is a problem with Windows and most other consumer operating systems.
Another aspect of the boot process enhances security. A verified boot process applies cryptographic signature keys to each chunk of code, so the the system can check the validity of module of the operating system before it is allowed to execute. In the event that some element of code doesn’t check out–due to malware or other corruption, the system will run an automated recovery procedure repair itself by redownloading the appropriate version of Chrome and reimaging the OS.
As an addition security measure, the root partition of the device’s drive is read-only, preventing any application from changing the core code.