by MIGUEL HELFT
Published: November 19, 2009
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Google began lifting the veil on its planned Chrome operating system on Thursday, but it said that computers powered by the software would not be available for a year.
Peter DaSilva for The New York Times
The new operating system, which is closely tied to Google’s Web browser, also named Chrome, is seen as a potential challenge to Microsoft, whose Windows software powers the vast majority of personal computers.
But with the Chrome operating system, Google is not trying to build a better version of Windows. Instead, it is aiming to shift users toward its vision of “cloud computing,” a model in which programs are not installed on a PC but rather are used over the Internet and accessed through a Web browser. In Google’s approach, a user’s data will also reside on servers across the Internet, rather than on their PC.
Most PC users already rely on cloud computing, using their Internet browsers to access things like e-mail, photo albums and digital maps.
“Hundreds of millions of users are living on the cloud,” said Sundar Pichai, a vice president for product management at Google in charge of Chrome. Every program that users enjoy on their PCs today, Mr. Pichai said, will soon be available as a Web application. “The trend is very, very clear,” he said.
While Microsoft and others say they believe that cloud-based programs will coexist with traditional PC software, Google has often said that Web applications will replace all desktop software, another area that Microsoft dominates. Machines running the Chrome operating system, which initially will be limited to lightweight, portable computers known as netbooks, will not run any desktop applications other than the Chrome browser.
But even Mr. Pichai said that devices on the Chrome operating system were likely to be used, at least at first, as a complement to users’ more powerful computers at home.
Analysts said that the Chrome operating system could pose a challenge to Microsoft over the long term but said that Microsoft was not sitting still.
“Chrome OS moves the playing field to the cloud,” said Ray Valdes, an analyst at Gartner. “But Microsoft is a multifaceted company. They have a systematic effort to put a lot of their technology portfolio in the cloud as well.”
In a statement, Microsoft said that the Chrome operating system was in “early stages of development” and that “customers are already voicing their approval of the way Windows 7 just works — across the Web and on the desktop, and on all sizes and types of PCs.” Speaking to investors at Microsoft’s headquarters,Steven A. Ballmer, the chief executive, said that Windows 7 was outselling any previous version of Microsoft’s operating system.
On Thursday, Google demonstrated an early version of the Chrome operating system on a netbook during a news conference at its Mountain View headquarters. Google also announced that it was releasing the underlying programming code for the operating system to anyone who wants to tinker with it under an open-source license.
Not surprisingly, the Chrome desktop looked similar to the Chrome browser. It included a handful of smaller tabs that Google calls application tabs, which are meant to run the programs people use most often, like e-mail or calendar software.
The netbook using the operating system booted in seven seconds, and Google said it was working to make the start-up time even faster. Google declined to say which hardware makers were planning to build machines that used the operating system, but said it would work closely with manufacturers. It said it had been pushing them to make netbooks that were slightly larger than today’s models and included full-size keyboards.