FAQ: Google Chrome OS

Chrome OS is a Linux-based operating system in development by Google

News of Google's Chrome operating system is sending waves though the tech world with some saying the OS signals the beginning of the end for Microsoft and others who say Google will fall flat on its face and fail. Without more specifics it's hard to say for sure how big of a splash the OS will really make. Google pledges to release more information regarding the OS later this summer.

This leaves us with lots of questions and few answers. Until Google decides to share more, we'll try to make the best of what we've got in this FAQ.

What is Chrome OS?

Chrome OS is a Linux-based operating system in development by Google. It is intended to focus on Web applications while running a fast and simple interface, based off Google's existing Chrome browser.

Who will use it?

Chrome OS will initially target the netbook market, but Google plans to offer the operating system for computers all the way up to full-size desktops. By supporting both x86 and ARM architectures, it seems most computers and possibly some mobile devices will be able to run Chrome OS.

What will it look like?

Unknown, but we have clues. Google says Chrome OS will run a version of the Chrome browser with "a new windowing system," so it's possible that we'll see typical browser windows fused with a dock full of commonly-used online apps.

What will become of my computer's desktop?

Only Google knows what Chrome OS's desktop will look like, or whether there will be one in the traditional sense. It's tempting to compare to Android, which in its mobile form stacks apps into rows and columns, but Google stresses that these are separate operating systems. The Linux kernel is flexible, so anything's possible.

How will my computer stay secure?

Google says it will design Chrome OS's security infrastructure so users "don't have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates." It seems likely, then, that protection will be built into the operating system. Of course, some questionable security decisions in Chrome itself means there's reason for concern.

No computer is truly virus-proof. What will happen if mine gets one?

Good question. Indeed, Linux tends to dodge the bullet on viruses and malware, but only because it's not targeted as much as Windows. Chrome OS will raise the profile of Linux, making it an attractive target for virus makers. It's not known what security measures will be in place to save a compromised computer.

Should I be worried about privacy when entrusting my OS to Google?

This issue has already raised eyebrows by some privacy advocates. Earlier, the company took heat for the way it collected data from Chrome users, and had to make concessions. Until Google can explain how an entire operating system won't be any more intrusive than its existing data-collection practices on the Web, privacy is a valid concern.

Will Chrome OS computers resemble Macs or Windows-based PCs at all?

Keep in mind that Google truly intends for Chrome OS to be a Web-centric operating system. The Official Google Blog said the company is "working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year." We could see a new line of computers built specifically with Chrome OS in mind.

Will we see applications exclusive to Chrome OS?

Unlikely, given that the operating system stresses Web apps above all. Furthermore, Google says Web applications "will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform."

Will we see applications that won't run on Chrome OS?

Without a doubt. If Chrome OS could perform every task, it'd be another Windows or OS X, and that's not what Google is trying to do. Don't expect to run Crysis, or Minesweeper.

Will "Favorite Application X" run on Chrome OS?

That depends on whether the software maker supports the OS and whether Google is even interested in hosting the program. It's conceivable that Microsoft won't support a Chrome OS-compatible Office suite, but Google could get around that by building out its Docs suite to match.

When will Chrome OS be released?

It will become available later this year, first for outside programmers to begin tinkering. It'll reach the netbook market in the second half of 2010, according to sources quoted in The New York Times.

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