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23 November 2009, 17:20

Chromium OS - Digging deeper into the open source Chrome OS

By Dj Walker-Morgan

Zoom Google's Chromium OS running on an ASUS EEE PC 1000HA
With the arrival of the first code of Chrome OS, also known as Chromium OS in its open source form, the H takes a deeper look at the browser-centric operating system.

When Google announced Chrome OS, many people assumed Google was launching an assault on the desktop - going after Microsoft Windows and were just not saying that was what they were doing. Now Chromium OS, the open source branch of Chrome OS, has arrived The H has taken the source code and built it to see how it feels in practice.

Chromium OS is designed around one philosophy, that the web and web applications are all that a netbook needs. This was, notionally, the original idea behind netbooks such as the Eee PC 700 series, but that generation of netbooks rapidly developed into "tiny laptops" with similar, albeit scaled down, specifications to those of a laptop computer. They also included the same issues of laptops; data tended to be stored locally, there was little integration with the web and web applications and the browser was just another application. Netbooks like this have been successful in their own ways, but Google wanted something else to be in play in the market, a truly thin client environment where there was only one application running on the operating system, the browser.

The first part of that development process was the creation of the Chrome browser which provided Google with a browser which matched where the company feels web applications are going. It includes a stronger security model, faster JavaScript, and a minimalist user interface. Chrome runs on Windows, with a Mac version due this year and a Linux version due next year. The next stage for Google was to create an operating system which put that browser onto netbook level hardware, optimised for that hardware and integrated with Google's cloud. Announced earlier this year, Chrome OS is that operating system.

What's inside Chromium OS?

Although Google's current release of Chromium OS can be run on current netbook devices, it is aimed at a device which doesn't, quite, exist yet; a tablet or clamshell device, possibly with touch support, definitely with 802.11n Wi-Fi and solid state storage. The storage on a Chrome OS device is there to act as a cache for data which is stored on the cloud, in Google's case, their clouds and services. This means that the cost of the device is lower as it does not need to include a large hard drive or flash drive.

Zoom The Chromium OS architecture
The operating system itself is a lightweight Debian GNU/Linux based operating system which contrary to earlier rumours, includes, an X Window based windowing system with support for OpenGL and the Clutter UI animation library. The latter components play a part in providing the quite rich animation which appears on screen. An important change at the lower levels of Chrome OS, and one which cannot be tried out just yet, is Google's development of custom firmware for Chrome OS devices which is focussed on booting as quickly as possible by only looking for hardware expected by Chrome OS; this doesn't stop Chrome OS being booted on a device with a traditional BIOS, but it does mean that the boot time on these devices isn't as fast as Google is aiming for with custom firmware in place.

Next - Running Chromium OS

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