Google pulls the curtain off Chrome OS, releases source


— 1:55 PM on November 19, 2009

As planned, Google showed Chrome OS to the world for the first time earlier today. The unveiling came hand-in-hand with the release of the operating system's source code under the Chromium OS project, which allows anyone to grab the code, modify it, build it, and run it. Google doesn't seem to have released a pre-built distribution, though.

Laymen might not be able to grab Chrome OS and use it just yet—the public launch isn't scheduled until a year from now—but Google has given everyone enough to salivate over. For starters, the company has revealed the OS's user interface, which places the web browser at the center of the user experience:

Chrome OS essentially looks like a souped-up version of the Chrome browser, with a menu to access software at the top left and web apps that appear as icon-only tabs, which users can keep pinned to the tab bar. Non-web-based applications show up in "panels" that float over or dock next to the central browser window, and Google lets you switch between browser "windows" (virtual desktops, for all intents and purposes) with mouse gestures and transition effects straight out of the Mac OS X playbook.

Google has also broken new ground on the security front. In this video, Google Security Engineer Will Drewry explains how Chrome OS houses system files on two mirrored partitions, with all local user data residing on a separate, encrypted partition. If an update or malware breaks something, the operating system can restore itself from the mirror partition with a simple reboot—and the user ought not worry about anything.

Chrome OS also looks fast, a trait that should come in handy considering Google's decision to target netbooks with the first public release. Google's Martin Bligh details and demonstrates in this other video how the Chrome OS team greatly streamlined the startup sequence, allowing a boot time of just six or seven seconds (by my count) on a lowly netbook. Impressive stuff.

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