Is Google’s Chrome OS Waiting for a Strong ARM?

It’s not every brand new operating system that gets open sourced a year before it hits the retail shelves. Then again, Chrome OS isn’t just any OS, and Google isn’t just any company.

Indeed, that’s just what Google did last week, making its brand new Chrome OS freely available for download by developers far and wide. Devices running the new operating system, on the other hand, are not expected until the fourth quarter of next year.

“We are doing this early, a year before Google Chrome OS will be ready for users, because we are eager to engage with partners, the open source community and developers,” wrote Caesar Sengupta, Google’s group product manager, and Matt Papakipos, engineering director, on the Official Google Blog.

“As with the Google Chrome browser, development will be done in the open from this point on,” they explained. “This means the code is free, accessible to anyone and open for contributions.”

Optimized Hardware

It may seem counterintuitive to release the free code first and then expect to sell it running on actual devices a year later, when — theoretically, at least — it could have been run on existing hardware in the meantime.

Yet the hardware that’s developed between now and then will make all the difference, Eitan Bencuya, a Google spokesperson, told LinuxInsider.

“The usage case where Chrome OS really shines is when it’s combined with hardware that takes advantage of it,” Bencuya explained.

Fast Hardware

Speed, for example, is one of the operating system’s defining characteristics, he pointed out.

Accordingly, unnecessary processes are being removed, operations are being optimized, and as many things will run in parallel as possible in the new operating system.

Those changes will also dig down into the hardware level.

“Our obsession with speed goes all the way down to the metal,” Sengupta and Papakipos explained. “We are specifying reference hardware components to create the fastest experience for Google Chrome OS.”

A Security Sandbox

Similarly, many of the operating system’s enhanced security features will rest on optimized hardware as well, Bencuya added.

Using Chrome OS, each application is contained within a security sandbox, making it harder for malware and viruses to infect a computer.

In addition, if a computer does get compromised, it is designed to fix itself with a reboot. Users’ files are kept on a separate partition of the hard drive, meaning that they won’t get lost in such a case, Bencuya explained.

Waiting for ARM

Most likely, the operating system is waiting for ARM-based hardware to come out, Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist with In-Stat, told LinuxInsider.

Currently, “all the solutions are x86-based, for the most part,” McGregor explained. “There are OEMs that have announced netbooks with ARM processors, but there are no products yet.”

As a result, “we’re kind of at this void in the market now where we’re waiting for everything to go towards the Internet,” but the pieces aren’t all in place yet, he noted. “We’re kind of playing catch-up and waiting for this ubiquitous environment to take hold.”

Necessary Pieces

ARM will likely begin to encroach on apps that are traditionally seen on the x86, McGregor said — but that won’t happen overnight.

“Intel wants to get into the handset,” while ARM wants to go beyond the handset and “into everything else,” he explained.

In order for that to happen, the hardware, software and ecosystem must be in place, he pointed out — “it’s kind of a buildup.”

Carrier Support

Google is putting in place two of those pieces — “the software base and the ecosystem infrastructure, with their app store and stuff like that — but they need the right hardware devices out there too,” emphasized McGregor.

In fact, there’s a fourth consideration as well, he noted, and that’s channel support.”Since these will be connected devices, most likely that will be a matter of some major carriers signing on.”

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