Behold, The Googlification Continues - Or Does It?
Google will eventually take over the world. Oh, sure, we delude ourselves into believing otherwise, but deep down inside we know that one day, gLife will come out of beta.
Everyone thought the biggest news to come out of the Googleplex yesterday was the announcement that four of the company's most popular offerings — Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and Google Talk — have left their long-held beta status behind, though the change appears to be mostly cosmetic, given the services well-established, if sometimes momentarily questioned, reliability. That news was, however, merely a foretaste of what was to come, as late last night the search giant revealed that it has even greater ambitions: to revolutionize the operating system.
According to the announcement, co-authored by Engineering Director Linus Upson and Product Management Vice President Sundar Pichai, Google believes that the operating systems currently on the market were "were designed in an era where there was no web," a fatal flaw, apparently, given the number of people who "live on the web," busily "searching for information, checking email, catching up on the news, shopping or just staying in touch with friends." Taking a cue — and the name — from it's 30,000,000+ strong web browser, Chrome, the company will develop an operating system to be christened Google Chrome OS.
The revelation is something of a pre-announcement, aimed at drumming up support — and, of course, publicity — for the offering. Like its Android mobile operating system and the Chrome browser, Google plans to Open Source the Chrome OS, and hopes the Open Source community will embrace it and actively assist in its development. Netbooks with the new OS are scheduled to appear sometime in the latter half of next year, an ambitious schedule to put together an entire operating system. Google says it is redesigning the "security architecture" to take viruses, malware, and security updates off of user's minds and plates.
The company says that while Chrome OS and Android — which is rapidly being ported to larger devices, including netbooks — will have some similarities, Chrome OS will be built to handle anything from netbooks to full desktops. They plan for the operating system to "start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds" and will "always run as fast as when [the users] first bought them," with a minimal interface centered around, you guessed it, the Chrome browser. The majority of the user's activities will take place online, no-doubt bearing tight integration with the aforementioned apps fresh out of beta.
When the grand announcement gets down to specs, however, it raises the question of whether "Chrome OS" is really a "new" operating system at all. "The software architecture is simple," it reads, "Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel."
Now, color us Linux geeks, but isn't that what those of us with more penguified personalities call a "Linux distribution"? The groundbreaking new features Google mentions are all fairly standard for Linux — fast boot times, including "instant on" Linux, updates that install all by themselves, and, of course, Linux's legendary security superiority.
There are already distributions — including one that, though the G in it's gOS stands for "Good" OS, could easily have been Google instead — that minimize traditional desktop applications and interfaces, including a number specifically designed for netbooks. As one reader we spoke with put it: "It is all the same - different bells and whistles, but it is the same bike. They took off the streamers and put baseball cards in the spokes instead."
Though we congratulate Google for wanting to make the user experience better and revolutionize computing, for using Linux to do it, and inviting the Open Source community to take the wheel, when it comes to creating a "brand new operating system" we're left asking "Where's the beef?"
Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.
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