SourceTwo separate sources—one inside the company and one outside it—have confirmed to Ars tonight that Google plans to launch an operating system built in some fashion around its new Web browser, Chrome. One source says that the new OS will be launched soon, perhaps as early as tomorrow.
Tentatively called "Google Chrome OS," the project appears targeted at netbooks, the tiny portable computers typically used only for such light tasks as Web browsing and e-mail. Chrome, of course, isn't an operating system, but a quick-booting OS built around a single application like Chrome would be a natural fit for a netbook. With such an OS, Google could obviously make it extra easy for users to access the full range of Google cloud applications through the browser—Google Docs, Gmail, Google Maps, etc.
Beyond the bare outlines, we have little solid information at this point, though the idea of a Google OS isn't some novelty; in fact, it's been aired publicly for years. In early 2006, we reported on Google's denial that it was prepping an OS distribution of its own based on Ubuntu, but the idea had already been rumored at that point for some time. More recently, the (relative) ease of porting Android to netbooks led to plenty of speculation that Google's full computer OS, when it appeared, would be based on Android.
The varied speculation over the years may result from the fact that Google can take several possible paths to build such an operating system. One possibility is that the OS could be a port of the Android mobile platform that has been modified to deliver a more netbook-friendly user interface. This seems highly unlikely, however, as Google has unambiguously stated in the past that it has no plans to adapt Android to netbooks itself. The search giant prefers to leave that as an exercise for third-party adopters.
Another possible approach might be that Google is building a separate lightweight Linux operating system that can be used as a host environment for Chrome. Speculation that Chrome itself could be used as a standalone operating system has been floating around ever since Chrome's launch, but those ideas are based on some fundamental misconceptions about how multiprocess browsing works. The fact that Chrome uses multiple processes does not make it an operating system itself.