Web Apps

Google Chrome Sprouts Linux, Mac Versions

Google this week released early developer channel versions of its Chrome browser for the Mac OS X and Linux platforms.

Google emphasized that both new versions are very much rough drafts intended for developers, not consumers looking for a smooth browsing experience.

A finalized Mac version of Chrome will open Google’s doors to a growing population of Apple computer users. However, porting to Linux may be even more important, because it will help Google gain ground with netbooks running Android, especially as Microsoft will only support netbooks based on Intel x86 processors.

The Google Announcement

Google announced the early developer channel versions of Chrome for the Mac OS X and Linux platforms on its Chromium blog.

Chromium is the open source project behind Google Chrome. Its features include sandboxing, a technology that isolates code so that it cannot directly access the operating system or applications on the user’s computer.

Users shouldn’t download the early versions of Chrome for Mac OS X and Linux unless they are developers — or people who just “take great pleasure in incomplete, unpredictable, and potentially crashing software” — warned Google product managers Mike Smith and Karen Grunberg, who created the blog post.

Getting Up to Speed

The early developer versions are so incomplete that they don’t let users change their privacy settings, set their default search providers, print, or view YouTube videos.

The Internet search giant is pushing to get these versions ready for a more accessible beta version, said Google spokesperson Eitan Bencuya.

“We are working hard on adding functionality to the Mac and Linux builds of Google Chrome and promoting them to the beta and stable channels soon, but we have nothing to announce at this time,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Google Chrome Release Stages

Google’s philosophy is “release early, release often,” according to a posting on its Chromium blog by Mark Larson, a technical program manager at the company.

Products under development are first released to the developer preview (dev) channel. At this stage, they can be very unstable, and new features often require manual configuration, Larson said. In essence, the dev channel is the alpha release.

The Mac OS X and Linux versions of Chrome are at this stage.

The other two stages are the beta channel and the stable channel. Every month or so, Google promotes stable and complete features from the dev channel to beta. Once they are fine-tuned, the features are sent to the stable channel, which is the public release.

Sandboxing Mac OS X

Work on the Mac OS X version of Chrome may be completed before the Linux version. The Mac OS X’s operating system APIs (application programming interfaces) are easy to use, according to a post by Google software engineer Jeremy Moskovich.

That doesn’t mean they are trouble-free, though. There is no documentation available about which privileges each API needs, such as whether it needs access to on-disk files or to call other APIs that the sandbox may have restricted access to, Moskovich said.

One solution Google engineers use is to call through to the API before turning on the sandbox, to let it cache whatever resources it needs.

Linux: The Tower of Babel

Work on the Mac OS X port is surging ahead; Google’s blog posting on the project is quite detailed. In contrast, the Linux porting project page on Chromium is relatively bare.

That may be due to Google engineers having to wrestle with the many varieties of Linux.

In his blog post on sandboxing, Moskovich noted there are a number of different sandboxing mechanisms available on Linux. Also, different Linux distributions ship with different sandboxing APIs, while some have none at all.

It is challenging to find a mechanism that is guaranteed to work on end-users’ Linux machines, Moskovich said.

On Linux, Android and Netbooks

While porting Chrome to the Mac platform may win Google kudos among Mac fans, porting the browser to Linux may be more important from the business point of view.

That’s because Google may have a chance to rule the netbook market with its Android operating system, which is based on Linux.

“There are certain versions of Linux that are more strategic to Google — like the Android version, which they’re involved with,” Gartner analyst David Smith told TechNewsWorld. “Android netbooks will be a big driver to whatever success they have in the netbook space.”

No ARM for Microsoft

Several computer vendors producing netbooks have at least investigated using Android as an out-of-the-box operating system because it’s free. Some demonstrated prototypes of these netbooks at Computex Taipei, Asia’s largest computer exhibition, earlier this week.

Most of those vendors are using either ARM processors or processors from other vendors based on an ARM core.

This will further open up the market for Android, as Microsoft will not support devices using ARM processors. Speaking at a forum on business and technology at the Churchill Club in Palo Alto, Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect, said his firm will put Windows on netbooks using Intel x86-based processors only.

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