Google Chrome OS is an operating system designed by Google to work exclusively with web applications. Google announced the operating system on July 7th, 2009 and made it an open source project, called Chromium OS, that November.
Unlike Chromium OS, which can be compiled from the downloaded source code, Chrome OS only ships on specific hardware from Google's manufacturing partners. The user interface takes a minimalist approach, resembling that of the Google Chrome web browser. Since Google Chrome OS is aimed at users who spend most of their computer time on the Web, the operating system originally had very limited offline capabilities. However, Google has since taken steps to increase the offline functionality.
The launch date for retail hardware featuring Chrome OS slipped after Google first announced the operating system: from an initial forecast date in late 2010 to June 15, 2011, when "Chromebooks" from Samsung (and then Acer in July) actually shipped.
Google developers began coding the operating system in 2009, inspired by the growing popularity and lower power consumption of netbooks and the focus of these small laptops on Internet access. To ascertain marketing requirements for an operating system focused on netbook Web transactions, the company did not do the usual demographic research generally associated with a large software development project. Instead, engineers relied on more informal metrics, including monitoring the usage patterns of some 200 Chrome OS machines used by Google employees. Developers also noted their own usage patterns. Matthew Papakipos, former engineering director for the Chrome OS project, put three machines in his house and found himself logging in for brief sessions: to make a single search query or send a short email.
On November 19, 2009, Google released Chrome OS's source code as the Chromium OS project. As with other open source projects, developers are modifying code from Chromium OS and building their own versions, whereas Google Chrome OS code will only be supported by Google and its partners, and will only run on hardware designed for the purpose. Unlike Chromium OS, Chrome OS will be automatically updated to the latest version. InformationWeek reviewer Serdar Yegulalp wrote that Chrome OS will be a product, developed to "a level of polish and a degree of integration with its host hardware that Chromium OS does not have by default," whereas Chromium OS is a project, "a common baseline from which the finished work is derived" as well as a pool for derivative works. The product and project will be developed in parallel and borrow from each other.
At a November 19, 2009 news conference, Sundar Pichai, the Google vice president overseeing Chrome, demonstrated an early version of the operating system. He previewed a desktop which looked very similar to the Chrome browser, and in addition to the regular browser tabs also had application tabs, which take less space and can be pinned for easier access. At the conference, the operating system booted up in seven seconds, a time Google said it would work to reduce.
On January 25, 2010, Google posted notes, images and a video of a conceptual design showing how a Chrome OS user interface might look on a tablet computer, with a 5–10 inch screen. The design would include the same basic layout as on netbooks, but with a touch interface; an onscreen qwerty keyboard in different layouts; large, square icons placed above the tabs; and panels placed along the bottom edge that could be opened with an upward dragging motion. The posting was made two days before Apple announced the iPad tablet. On March 16, 2011, several changes to Chromium OS were made which indicate the development of a tablet version of Google Chrome OS.
Cr-48 prototype hardware
At a December 7, 2010 press briefing, Google announced the Cr-48 laptop, a reference hardware design to test the Chrome OS operating system. It was named after Chromium-48, an unstable isotope of the metallic element known as Chromium. The laptop's design broke convention by replacing the caps lock key with a dedicated search key.
The Cr-48 was intended for testing only, not retail sales. Google addressed complaints that the operating system offers little functionality when the host device is not connected to the Internet. The company demonstrated an offline version of Google Docs running on Chrome OS and announced a 3G plan that would give Chrome OS users 100 MB of free data each month, with additional paid plans available from Verizon.
About 60,000 Cr-48s were distributed to testers and reviewers in early December 2010. Reviews of Chrome OS running on the Cr-48 in mid-December 2010 indicated that while the project held promise, it still had some distance to go before being ready for market.
On March 8, 2011, Google Product Management vice president Sundar Pichai stated that the last of the 60,000 Cr-48s had been shipped.
The Cr-48 notebooks have additional unused hardware components for implementation at a future date, including a Bluetooth 2.1 controller. The USB port only acts as a keyboard, mouse, ethernet adapter, or USB storage port and will not work as a printer port as there is no print stack on the operating system. Adding further hardware outside of the previously mentioned items will likely cause problems with the operating system's "self knowing" security model. Users are encouraged to use a secure service called Google Cloud Print to print to legacy printers connected to their desktop computers, or connect an HP ePrint, Kodak Hero, Kodak ESP, or Epson Connect printer to the Google Cloud Print service for a "cloud aware" printer connection.
- Official Chrome OS website
- Chromium OS project page
- Official announcement
- Google Chrome OS Live Webcast; November 19, 2009
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