Page last updated at 22:34 GMT, Thursday, 19 November 2009

Google previews Chrome open source operating system

By Jonathan Fildes
Technology reporter, BBC News

Internet search giant Google has lifted the lid on its operating system, known as Chrome OS.

The free and open source system is initially aimed at low-cost netbooks and does away with many of the features of a traditional program.

All applications are designed to run in a web browser and all the user's data is stored on Google's servers.

Engineers from the firm said the first computers running the system would be available before the end of 2010.

Google Chrome OS demonstration

"We are trying to offer a choice for users," said Sundar Pichai, vice-president of product management, during an event at the firm's headquarters in California.

"This model of computing is fundamentally different."

The event follows the recent launch of Microsoft's Windows 7 and Apple's operating system upgrade, Snow Leopard.

Speed test

Google first announced its intention to build an operating system in July this year.

The firm has designed the system around its Chrome browser. The program was released 14 months ago and already has 40m regular users, the firm said.

We want Google Chrome OS to be blazingly fast
Sundar Pichai, Google

"It's very familiar and intuitive to users - most people know how to use the browser," said Mr Pichai.

All programs or applications - such as word processing and e-mail - run in different tabs in the browser.

"There are no conventional desktop applications," said Mr Pichai. "That means you don't have to install or update software.

"It's just a browser; a browser with a few modifications."

Mr Pichai said the system was based around speed, simplicity and security.

He showed it booting up in seven seconds.

"We're working very, very, very hard to make that time shorter," he said. "We want Google Chrome OS to be blazingly fast."

He said they wanted it to be like a television, where a computer could be switched on and instantly running and connected to the web.

Google has been able to boost the speed of the system by designing it for specific hardware. The firm said that it would only run on computers using "solid state drives" instead of traditional hard drives.

In addition, the firm has been talking to hardware manufacturers to specify which components to include on finished machines.

This means that the company could "optimise" the code to run as quickly as possible, said Mr Pichai.

Memory games

He used the demonstration to show the machine doing many common tasks such as playing games and music, as well as reading books and writing text.

Windows 7 logo
The system is a direct challenge to Microsoft Windows

Any documents and files created on the computer were automatically synced and saved on Google's servers, said Matthew Papakipos, an engineer working on the system.

As a result, he added, anybody who lost their computer would be able to buy a new machine and easily recover all their data.

"In a matter of seconds, all the data syncs back to the machine."

Although the firm envisages most tasks will be done online, it will also offer the capability to use some programs when there is no connection.

It already offers a similar feature for programs such as Gmail and Google Docs using its Gears program.

Initially, the firm envisages people will use the operating system on a second, portable machine.

Memory intensive tasks, such as video editing, would require a more powerful machine.

Open offer

The demonstration could dramatically change the market for operating systems, especially for Microsoft, the biggest player with about 90% share of the market.

Netbooks on sale in California (file image)
Chrome OS will at first be aimed at low cost netbooks

When it was first announced, Rob Enderle, industry watcher and president of the Enderle Group, described it as "the first real attempt by anyone to go after Microsoft".

The fact that it is free could encourage many users to try the system.

Currently, Mr Pichai said the company did not have a business plan but admitted that encouraging people to use the web and Google services "benefits us as a company".

Google derives most of its revenue from selling advertising around search and its other online products.

Most consumers will have to wait until 2010 to get their hands on a device running the system.

However, the firm used the event to release an early version of the code for developers.

"You can get Chrome OS up and running today," said Mr Pichai.

They said they had chosen to release the code and the designs for the system because it was based on other open source projects including the Linux operating system and the Ubuntu distribution of it.

Open source systems allow people to tinker and use the underlying code to build and customize applications. It is normal to publish any modifications to allow other people to take advantage of the changes.

"We're looking forward to feedback from the open source community," said Mr Pinchai.



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SEE ALSO
Apple unleashes Snow Leopard OS
28 Aug 09 |  Technology
Microsoft Office takes to the web
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Hardware makers support Google OS
09 Jul 09 |  Technology
Charge of Google's light brigade
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Google to launch operating system
08 Jul 09 |  Technology
Google launches internet browser
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