There is a new kid in the Operating System (OS) block. The source code of Chromium OS, the open source project behind Google Chrome OS, was released a couple of weeks ago and, according to the official Google blog, netbooks preloaded with the finished OS will be available by late 2010.

It will support both x86 (Intel) as well as ARM chips and, from the looks of the early release, the interface will sport a Spartan aesthetic – similar to Google’s browser.

Google is consulting a variety of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to design machines with “specific reference hardware.” This will skip a lot of the hardware checking steps that standard operating systems run through. In some of the test runs, the OS booted up in under seven seconds. The platform is based on a Linux kernel which will self-check and self-update at every boot.

But what does all the guesswork about the final technical specifications and the anticipated use of emerging technologies such as HTML 5 really mean to you?

Advantages

The first obvious thing is laptops loaded with an open source OS costs less because the device manufacturer does not have to pay a licensing fee. The second being those who want to stay on the ‘Cloud’ might now have a real option and the third is the broader issue of competition driving innovation.

The OS is the interface which lets you ‘talk’ with your computer. It helps the underlying hardware in the machine to understand what you are saying. Application developers build their software on top of the OS, so that they need not have to handle hardware calls.

Chrome OS is more of an interface to the web than a real operating system with a desktop. Google realises that the Web is no longer filled with static web pages; it is a place where people interact with complex software applications.

The Internet has evolved to a point where you no longer need an operating system to perform the most basic computing tasks. All that you need is an operating environment. That is the approach Google has taken. All the applications run from within a browser and your data is stored in the ‘Cloud’ – which essentially means as Google puts it “completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates.”

You also wouldn’t need driver support or application installation and hence lightning fast boot-up. Chrome OS might also change the nature of the software application environment. Right now application developers have to accept Microsoft’s terms to access the information which will let them initiate the hardware calls through the OS. Competition will mean they will have more leverage.

Chrome OS, much like its namesake in the browser arena, will change the game even if it’s a niche product just by adopting newer technologies, thereby forcing others to evolve and provide better solutions.

But can the cloud-driven platform do simple tasks which we take for granted in today’s OS. Can it print? “You will be able to print,” said Chrome’s lead engineer, Idan Avraham, at the launch.

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