Google announced last night that they are building a lightweight operating system based on Google Chrome:
Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.
This seems a little like something I wrote in April 2004 about the GooOS:
Google isn’t worried about Yahoo! or Microsoft’s search efforts…although the media’s focus on that is probably to their advantage. Their real target is Windows. Who needs Windows when anyone can have free unlimited access to the world’s fastest computer running the smartest operating system? Mobile devices don’t need big, bloated OSes…they’ll be perfect platforms for accessing the GooOS. Using Gnome and Linux as a starting point, Google should design an OS for desktop computers that’s modified to use the GooOS and sell it right alongside Windows ($200) at CompUSA for $10/apiece (available free online of course). Google Office (Goffice?) will be built in, with all your data stored locally, backed up remotely, and available to whomever it needs to be (SubEthaEdit-style collaboration on Word/Excel/PowerPoint-esque documents is only the beginning). Email, shopping, games, music, news, personal publishing, etc.; all the stuff that people use their computers for, it’s all there.
But in many important ways, the GooOS I was talking about is largely already here and has little to do with Google Chrome OS. The underlying assumption in that post (stated more clearly in this post from Aug 2005) is that all of these apps are running in the browser. Which they now do: Gmail, Google Reader, Google Apps (word processing, spreadsheets), Aviary, Flickr, Pandora, YouTube, IM, etc. There are even online storage and backup mechanisms…do you even need local file storage? Hell, you can even use powerful apps like Mathematica in a browser. With little effort, many people can do 95% of their daily work entirely within a web browser. That’s the real GooOS/WebOS, the important GooOS/WebOS.
Sure, GooOS is not an operating system as a programmer would define it but it’s an OS from the perspective of the user — “An operating system…is an interface between hardware and user” — the browser is increasingly the sole point of interface for our interaction with computers. In a way, real operating systems are becoming irrelevant. Google’s got it exactly right with Google Chrome OS: a browser sitting on top of a lightweight Unix layer that acts as the engine that the user doesn’t need to know a whole lot about with the browser as the application layer. OS X might be the last important traditional desktop operating system, if only because it runs on desktops, laptops, the iPhone, and the inevitable Apple netbook/tablet thingie. But even OS X (and Windows and Google Chrome OS and Gnome and etc.) will lose marketshare to the WebOS…as long as users can run Firefox, Safari, or Chrome on whatever hardware they own, no one cares what flavor of Unix or tricked-out DOS that browser runs on.