Sunday, 12 July 2009

A life-support system for browsers

That is how John Naughton defines Google's new operating system:
[...] There wasn't much technical detail in the company's blog post, but the one thing that is clear is that the new OS will be - in its words - "a natural extension of Google Chrome". It is, they go on to say, "our attempt to rethink what operating systems should be".

If true, we have reached a significant milestone because what the Google guys propose amounts to turning the world upside down. Up to now, the operating system was at the heart of every computing device, transforming the machine from an expensive paperweight into something that could do useful things - running programs, managing displays, handling keyboard and mouse, etc. And because the OS had to be able to do all of this, it was the largest, most complex and most important piece of software of all.

In the old paradigm, the web browser was just another program the OS had to support. When the PC was the platform, that made perfect sense, but that paradigm has been steadily eroding. As broadband penetration increased, more and more people began to get their "computing" services not from their PC but from server farms over the net. Imperceptibly, we have been moving into a world in which, to repeat an old mantra, "the network is the computer".

If the network is indeed the computer, then the browser - our window on to the network - becomes the key piece of software. For many people today, the browser is the only program they really need. So it was only to be expected that somebody would eventually ask why we needed vast, clunky, expensive operating systems (such as Windows Vista, say) when really all that is required is a life-support system for a browser. That's what the Google engineers have asked. Their answer is that only a minimalist OS is now needed, and that is what they are developing - and what millions will be running in the latter part of 2010.
More here in today's Observer on this absolutely fascinating development.

No comments:

Post a Comment