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Details of the Now Available Google Chrome OS

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Google has open sourced Chrome OS a year before the planned launch which is to happen some time before winter holidays in 2010. Google is working with manufacturers on a new reference hardware to accommodate their speed and security requirements which are key features of their new operating system.

Since everyone knows how to use a browser, Google wants Chrome OS to look and feel like a browser. Practically, what the users gets is a Chrome browser on top of custom Linux based operating system which is completely hidden from the user for simplicity. The entire data is in the cloud, and it is not permanently saved locally. A copy of the data the user works on is kept locally as a cache for speed reasons. One implication is that editing a document means updating the copy in the cloud.

Google plans the actual market release 1 year from now. The currently proposed UI will change in time. The idea is to use pinned browser tabs which become application tabs and they don’t move as long as they are pinned so one can access email, calendar, docs or other chosen applications. They are the left 5 tabs in the picture below:


By clicking on the Chrome logo located on the top left corner, one can access the application menu shown below, a web page displaying all the applications the user can access, having the option to add more:


The UI of this page is subject to change. The applications are started as lightweight windows called panels and the can stay on top of the screen even if one chooses another tab in the browser or it can be minimized or closed.

Chrome OS is a completely open, non-proprietary OS. For example, by accessing an MS Excel file from a storage device (SD card), Chrome OS will access MS Windows Live to open it up, if that’s the online application configured to process such files:


Chrome OS netbooks do not have HDDs but instead they use flash based memory solutions or solid state drives (SSD) for that. This improves the boot up speed a lot, currently being at 7 seconds but it is promised to be even faster. The firmware verifies the signature of the optimized kernel, and, if it is OK, it loads the kernel which in turn loads the browser. In case one signature is incorrect, possibly due to virus activity, the firmware will download a default safe kernel and OS, the whole process being automatic. This recovery is done without losing system or application data, without losing settings and even without losing the cache. Also, Chrome OS updates itself with newer versions when available.

Chrome OS security involves a complete separations of web applications running in tabs separated from each other and from the underlying system. The OS file system is read-only for protection. User data is stored on a different partition and it is encrypted using cryptographic random numbers. All the user data is synchronized with the cloud, the local storage being used just as a cache. So, in case the OS is infected or the computer is lost, the user can get another one and, by using his credentials, he will load the entire OS, applications and settings in a very short time.

Google is currently working with manufacturers to elaborate a new set of netbook hardware which comply with their speed and security needs. Also, Google requests the netbooks to be made a bit larger to accommodate a standard size keyboard and to have better mouse pads. Also, the reference hardware will include information about the screen resolution, probably specifying larger resolutions than are currently used in netbooks.

There are already several media and document editing applications supported. Playing videos, loading photos, editing documents are already working and anyone can access countless online applications. Chrome OS is not proprietary in any way.

The code is open source, downloadable, under the name Chromium OS and Google is going to use the same code trunk as everybody else, but their product will be most likely called Chrome OS. Google has also opened up the design documents disclosing their plans for the future and welcomes anyone wanting to participate.

Resources: Video Introducing Chrome OS, Source Code, UI Experiments, Design Documents.

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