Google on Tuesday showed off new details of its forthcoming Chrome operating system. The company also announced a pilot project under which qualified consumers, developers, educators and businesses will receive a free Chrome-powered laptop dubbed the Cr-48 between now and January.
Though Google CEO Eric Schmidt and others had envisioned building computers that could run applications remotely over networks back in 1997, it has taken more than 13 years for the underlying technologies to emerge.
"This is a journey we have been talking about for a very long time," Schmidt said. "With Chrome OS we have the development of a viable third choice on the desktop" that is strong enough, scalable enough, and fast enough.
Running Apps Remotely
Google and Citrix Systems are already developing software to enable machines running Chrome OS and Citrix Receiver to access a wide variety of business applications that reside in private clouds, noted Citrix Senior Vice President Gordon Payne. There are major benefits in "having both the apps and the data secure in the data center," Payne said. "This will be available in the first half of next year."
Businesses are interested in such features because they offer significant advantages in security, simplicity and total cost of ownership, noted Google Vice President Sundar Pichai. Many CIOs would rather spend their IT budgets "on high-value opportunities" rather than on IT personnel configuring computers, running updates, or installing patches, he observed. "The TCO is a couple of orders of magnitude" lower than on standard PCs, Pichai added.
Chrome OS will include several security enhancements, such as the automatic encryption of all data. Machines running the new OS also will feature a verified boot that "takes the core initial part of the OS and puts it on the device in read-only firmware, which no software can modify" without "physical access to the device," Pichai said.
"The safe part checks every component of the OS to ensure it has not been modified," Pichai said. "We are very confident that it will be the most secure OS ever shipped."
Nothing But the Web
In contrast to standard PCs, Chrome OS machines boot near instantly, wake up immediately, and are easy to set up and maintain. When configuring a new machine, for example, it takes less than 60 seconds to complete all the requirements.
And once the initial set-up is completed, Chrome OS will thereafter deliver the same personal user experience across all machines running Chrome OS that a person uses, Pichai said. Moreover, the new machines will feature a private guest mode that automatically protects the owner's data even as it maintains the privacy of the guest user's computing activities.
Pichai also noted that standard PCs run slower over time as the users adds apps and other capabilities. With Chrome OS, however, "we want to deliver an experience that is just the opposite -- an experience that gets better over time" due to the machine's automatic adoption of the latest OS updates, Pichai said.
Google also is working to ensure that many applications will be able to run offline when the new Chrome-enabled machines from Acer, Samsung and others launch in the first half of next year. For example, Google Docs is expected to include an offline capability by then. The new machines also will ship with an integrated 3G capability from Verizon Wireless that will provide 100 megabytes of free access per month for the first two years with no contract or commitment required.