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Google Announces "Chrome" Operating System

Google calls the new Web-centric, laptop operating system it announced last night "Chrome OS," but the company could just as well have titled this software "Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's Revenge."

Jackson, you may recall, presided over much of United States. v. Microsoft, the antitrust case in which Microsoft was found guilty of abusing its market power. In that role, Jackson wrote a "Findings of Fact" document outlining an alternative to the Redmond, Wash., company's domination of the personal-computing market--applications that ran inside a Web browser, thus making the browser into a software platform he called "middleware."

... to the extent the array of applications relying solely on middleware comes to satisfy all of a user's needs, the user will not care whether there exists a large number of other applications that are directly compatible with the underlying operating system.

A federal appeals court took Jackson off the Microsoft case in 2001, citing biased conduct, and the final settlement wound up being far gentler than Jackson had advocated.

But here we are, eight years later, and Web-hosted applications--say, Gmail, Google Documents, Google Calender, Google Maps--are not only commonplace, they're rendering entire categories of software obsolete.

With Chrome OS, Google aims to thicken Jackson's browser "middleware" layer into an entire operating system. This open-source software--the Mountain View, Calif., company hopes to release it to developers by the end of this year, then see it ship on ultralight netbook laptops from other vendors in the second half of 2010--will only feature one traditional program, Google's Chrome browser, running on top of a version of the Linux open-source operating system.

(You could say Google plans to integrate the browser with the operating system--one of the things that landed Microsoft in Jackson's court.)

The idea is that for every possible task a netbook user might want to perform, a Web-hosted application will be ready. These Web programs could come from anybody and would function just as well in other browsers on other operating systems, since Google's browser relies on open Web standards. No Internet connection? Both Google's own software and a growing set of Web specifications allow for offline use within a browser.

So Chrome OS users will enjoy a wealth of programs, many presumably free. And Google will further its not-so-secret plot to get us to spend even more time on the Web, increasing our odds of encountering Google's services, sites and ads.

This strategy, even with Google's vast user base as a potential audience, may not work. First of all, Chrome OS meets the book definition of "vaporware," software announced far before its purported shipping date. Those of you thinking your next laptop could run Chrome OS had better be patient.

Even if Google sticks to its schedule, you could see a selection of only one or two Chrome netbooks, just as smartphone buyers looking for a device running Google's Android software have only had one choice in the U.S. so far, T-Mobile's G1.

Software developers, in turn, could reject Google's Web-only invitation in favor of writing traditional programs that aren't confined to a browser. When Apple tried to tell developers in 2007 that they should content themselves with writing Web-based programs for the iPhone, they refused to buy that argument. "No, thank you" one summarized in a characteristic blog post.

Finally, users might realize that they don't need to wait for Google to deliver a simple, secure, open-source, Web-centric netbook operating system. The versions of Linux shipping on many netbooks already match most of this description (except that they also allow their users to install other programs). Want to turn a Linux netbook into a Chrome lookalike? Set its Firefox browser to run on startup in full-screen mode, then lock out access to every other application on the netbook.

The same could be done with netbooks running Android, already in varying stages of development from such firms as Asus and Nvidia.

Chrome may make it easier for people to switch to an entirely Web-based computing existence--for one thing, the Google brand name may be an easier sell in the mass market than different distributions of Linux. But by itself, it only builds on what's been happening for several years.

In other words, Jackson doesn't need Chrome OS to be proved right. And Microsoft doesn't need Chrome OS to feel threatened.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 8, 2009; 11:29 AM ET
Categories:  The Web , The business we have chosen  
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I just wonder how Google will get around the anti-trust pitfalls that Microsoft fell into.

Posted by: tundey | July 8, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

When he worked my brother did cooperative work with Microsoft. His business was one of deadlines and schedules. Microsoft people would come to meetings and say "Well, we added these features and cut these features and it will be six more months." No mention of the deadlines or the schedule. No wonder they are letting their hold on the computer world go. They have no discipline. Or much vision.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | July 8, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

I think the article should have been titled, - Google Announces Chrome "Operating System." - (Pardon the lack of proper outer quotation marks, but they would have obscured my point.)

Posted by: Arlington4 | July 8, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse

I guess I fat-fingered the comment.

I think the article should have been titled, - Google Announces Chrome "Operating System." -

Posted by: Arlington4 | July 8, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

Anything that might liberate us from the consumers-be-damned-Bill Gates' virus-prone Microsoft Windows OS is most welcome. MS consumers have made Gates the richest man on the planet yet he can't invest in adequate product-performance systems and good customer service. Good riddance to the planetary dependence on MS. (And yes, I switched to MacBook.)

Posted by: farhorizons | July 8, 2009 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Hey Rob,

Boy you sure got a lot wrong in one and the same article!


PS. Totally 101% concur w/ farhorizons.

Posted by: Rixstep | July 8, 2009 9:00 PM | Report abuse

@tundey: GCOS is a commodity. It's open source. How can you attack Linux? The concept of the central multiprocessor? You can't. What Microsoft were accused of wasn't being a market leader; they were accused of taking advantage of their market position in an unethical way. And thanks to TP we all know today why they did it. To paraphrase Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs, Google Chrome OS is Microsoft's worst nightmare. And it's about time.

Posted by: Rixstep | July 8, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

And don't forget Apple in this equation. Schmidt doesn't come to board meeting in Cupertino because he thinks the coffee's better than in Mountain View.

Posted by: Rixstep | July 8, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

I initially liked Chrome as a second or third browser to Firefox & SeaMonkey.

I just downloaded 'the new Chrome" and it was unable to find G Mail or any other site noting there were too many redirects.'

Do that mean that the CIA, FSB, FBI, et. al ate somehow copying my ed-mails, because if it does, I can just copy them directly in the BCC section.

If it doesn't, Malwarebytes Anitmalware, Super Antispyware, and Bit Defender aren't finding anything on my machine after 'full search' runs.


Posted by: | July 8, 2009 10:55 PM | Report abuse

Please pardon my 2 finger typing spelling errors -- ugh. LOL

Posted by: | July 8, 2009 10:57 PM | Report abuse

RP is the quickest journalist to the essential point of anti-trust implications: I don't see how Chrome OS flies in the EU, which has forced MS to unbundle IE from Windows. Oddly, one of the things that will make Chrome OS potentially attractive is that MS is putting Office online.

Posted by: internet2k4 | July 9, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Rixstep: Boy you sure got a lot wrong in that comment! But since you read minds as well as I do, I won't bother describing any of those alleged mistakes. (BTW, great job catching the typo in my 12th paragraph!)

Everybody else: Anybody care to say if they'd want to use a netbook running Chrome OS versus OS X/Linux/Windows? With all the chatter here about the political or legal issues of Chrome OS (and the past practices of other OS vendors) I don't see much discussion about the usability of a Web-apps-only system along the lines of what Google is planning.

- RP

Posted by: robpegoraro | July 9, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

@tundey, maybe sooner than you might think. The new Asst. AG of the DOJ Antitrust Division, Christine Varney, pretty much has it out for Google and pursued civil litigation against the company when she was in private practice. She's made high-tech one of her priorities in office, opening an investigation into alleged noncompetes between the industry players (including Google) not to compete for top talent. Anything Google does will be heavily scrutinized by this Administration.

Posted by: DCAtty | July 9, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Does the world really need yet another browser (running on top of yet another Linux)?

Google could make this an attractive idea for netbooks - IF it turns out to be simpler and more friendly to the casual user than other Linux-based netbooks have been so far. But if not, it represents nothing new.

And as to the antitrust issues... as I understand it, the main complaint against Microsoft has always been that they used their desktop OS monopoly to beat competitors in other markets that they wouldn't have otherwise. Going after them for their browser practices was a lot like prosecuting Al Capone for tax evasion. That said, if Google tries a variation on the same theme (using their existing "monopoly" to create new ones), they would, and should, find themselves in trouble.

Posted by: lofan1 | July 9, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I don't see how this new version of Chrome is going to change anything. It's still basically just a browser running on top of Linux.

Web applications suck. They are slow and are not at all robust. Trying to make a web browser run applications and calling that an OS is a joke.

Posted by: nuzuw | July 9, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

This is just silly. If Apple wanted to, they could make write a version of OSX that would resider on those Windows machines and put Microsoft out of business tomorrow. Who is going to tolerate Gates and his abusive Indian call centers and perennial bugs when they could have an actual functional OS with lots of great software? I'm a developer and every time I write code for the Mac I get to use free tools that I used to pay Microsoft thousands of dollars for. Likewise, instead of using Microsoft's nightmare called SQL, I get to use mySQL, which is more robust, easier to code, and has a set of human interfaces that actually work. Sure Linux is nice, but most of the business applications are for amateurs. OSX has everything any business needs, even large businesses, at a fraction of the price they would pay for the utter garage Microsoft peddles.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | July 9, 2009 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Those having issues with 'redirects' thus the browser doesn't work, or fails to load for unspecified reasons CHECK YOUR COMPUTER CLOCK. Good chance both the clock & date are incorrect [somehow.] Correct this and presto, a functional Goggle Chrome.

Posted by: | July 10, 2009 7:59 AM | Report abuse

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