Google has unveiled its Chrome OS. In a webcast launch at the company's California headquarters on Thursday, Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management, said the Linux-based operating system was fully open, ran applications only in its browser and stored all data in the cloud.
The early version demonstrated is available immediately for developers, with the finished version due in a year's time.
Speed, simplicity and security were the key components of the design, said Pichai. "It takes seven seconds to boot to the login, and three seconds to hit an application. We're working very hard to make that faster." All applications are web applications, he said, with the browser running each in an tab isolated from other applications and the system, and there was nothing for users to install or maintain.
"All Chrome OS data is in the cloud", Pichai said. "If I lose my Chrome OS computer, I can buy another one, log in and in a few seconds everything is back."
He also said the operating system was self-checking and self-repairing, with individual components cryptographically signed. If the computer detects an error, malware or the system being hacked, it reloads some or all of the system afresh over the cloud.
In the demonstration of the operating system, applications ran in tabs along the top of the browser component, and could also be opened in panes and minimised. "Any web app is a Chrome OS app," said Pichai: an Excel spreadsheet was shown running in Windows Live. "We expect rich complex applications with the functionality of desktop applications".
In particular, Pichai mentioned reading books, playing music and video as key areas. Media and games can be played offline, and Chrome OS would support HTML 5's offline capabilities, he said, but it was primarily designed for online use.
Chrome OS will run on both x86 and ARM chips, but to be a Chrome OS netbook the device would need to use hardware approved by Google. It will issue reference designs based on components, such as wireless interfaces, that the company knows to have proper driver support. "There are some fierce usability issues out there," said Pichai. "Chrome OS devices will be slightly larger netbooks with a full size keyboard. We care about resolution of the displays This will be part of the specification".
He also said that Chrome OS computers would only use SSDs, rather than conventional hard disks. "We just want computers to be delightful and work", he said.
Matt Papakipos, engineering director of Chrome OS, said that despite Chrome OS looking like any other browser it was a "fundamentally different computing model than what appears on the surface", with the system checking its own security every time it boots, having daily automatic updates and having no data on it that was not also on the cloud. It was also fully open: "All of the code is out in the open now, and we've opened up all of our design documents."
Pichai said that Google was working with "all the top partners" on commercial devices, and that the initial focus was entirely on netbooks with keyboards, although there may be other form factors later. Many aspects of Chrome OS would change between now and the launch, but "everything that works in Chrome [browser] works in Chrome OS. On day one, a lot of the capabilities will already have been out there".
He said that rather than an app store approach, "there are uncountable web apps out there. Our job is to make sure people can discover them".
Pichai namechecked Linux, Ubuntu and Moblin, among others, as providing some of the software in Chrome OS.