Internet at the heart of everything: Q&A with Chrome OS

Google’s Chrome operating system changes everything. It puts the internet at the centre of our computing experience.

Chrome OS goes beyond software. Google has brought out Chromebooks that are “built and optimised for the web” promising an eight seconds boot time – the fastest to date. It also marks a dramatic new front in the fierce battle between Microsoft and Google. The search engine’s foray into operating systems is a strike at the very heart of Microsoft. Google is betting it will go all online. Microsoft thinks it will too, but is culturally an offline software company that is battling to turn the ship around.

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Memeburn caught up with the product management director for Chrome OS, Caesar Sengupta. Sengupta gives some insight into what Google’s Chrome OS is really about. He talks about giving users a computing experience based on the “core tenets of speed, simplicity, security and connectivity”, and what Chromebooks mean for the future of computing technology.

Memeburn: In your own words, what exactly is a web or browser operating system?

Caesar Sengupta: A web-based operating system puts the internet at the heart of everything. Because Google has put the web browser at the very heart of Chromebooks, we can offer users a very different kind of computing experience, based around the core tenets of speed, simplicity, security and connectivity. Chromebook users also don’t need to worry about anti-virus software, system updates, or the complex maintenance required to keep today’s computers running smoothly.

MB: What prompted Google to develop Chrome OS?

CS: We launched the Google Chrome browser in December 2008 and since then it has grown to 160-million active users worldwide. As we spoke to these users we found that many of them practically spend all their computing time on the web in Chrome.They use the web for browsing, entertainment, work, communication, gaming, and the list goes on. However they still have to spend inordinate amounts of time maintaining their computers — dealing with updates, protecting their computers from viruses and malware, backing up their data to just keep their computer running properly. We felt this was completely unnecessary. Therefore we designed Google Chrome OS to bring the full power of the web to these users in a fast, simple and more secure package.

MB: What are some of the key features of Chrome OS that separates it from other operating systems?

CS: Chromebooks provide a fundamentally different end-to-end computing experience. Even when users use Chrome on a conventional operating system they still have to deal with all the headaches of ordinary computers – updates, viruses, malware, backups etc. For users who live on the web, Chromebooks provide a fast, simple and more secure experience that is built and optimised for the web.

MB: What is the relationship between Android and Chrome?

CS: Both Chrome OS and Android are innovative open source projects that are trying to improve the computing experience by approaching the opportunity from different perspectives. At Google we focus on the user and on fostering innovation. Rather than pre-judging outcomes, we will continue to focus on users by enhancing choice and innovation in the ecosystem

MB: Who is this OS aimed at? Individual consumers or businesses?

CS: Chromebooks work best for people who live on the web – spending most of their time in a browser using web applications. We expect many consumers as well as many businesses and schools to greatly value the speed, simplicity and security this operating system provides. We are changing the way that devices are sold into businesses and schools by offering a subscription model that could save them up to thousands of dollars per device per year. Chromebooks for Business start at $28/device/month and Chromebooks for Education start at $20/device/month.

MB: What are the convergence possibilities for this OS between mobile, tablet and computers?

CS:Chrome OS was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of form factors. We expect to see different partners build different kinds of devices based on Chrome OS, but for this initial release we are targeting the notebook form factor.

MB: Chrome security: Can you give us a brief understanding of what the Sandbox does?

CS: Any website – even well-known, legitimate ones – may be infected with malware. Just by visiting an infected web page, your computer can be infected as well. Malware can exploit flaws in your browser to steal passwords, personal data, and financial information. It happens to millions of people without their knowledge.

The Chrome-based operating system is the first operating system designed with this ongoing threat in mind. It uses the principle of “defense in depth” to provide multiple layers of protection, so if any one layer is bypassed, others are still in effect. At the heart of this is the “sandbox” – the process by which each web page and application visited on a Chromebook exists in a restricted environment.

This means that if you visit an infected page, it can’t affect the other tabs or apps on your computer, or anything else on the machine. The threat is contained. Chromebooks also automatically update to ensure they’re running and most secure version of the operating system, and run a verified boot-up process to detect any system corruptions, repairing any damage automatically.

MB: This is a web-focused OS, does that mean it requires internet access to work?

CS: Not at all. For those times when a user is not online, the operating system supports HTML5 offline functionality that allows applications or websites that use this web standard to run offline. For instance, offline access to popular apps such as Gmail, Google Docs and Google Calendar will be enabled this summer, and a host of apps, such as the New York Times app and Angry Birds, already work offline – you can find more offline apps in the Chrome Web Store.

MB: Chromebook rolled out on 15 June, are there plans for a desktop rollout or is the OS restricted to notebooks?

CS: We’ve designed the Chrome-based operating system so that it can run on a variety of devices, and we expect our manufacturing partners to experiment with a range of form factors.

MB: Why should I use Chrome OS as opposed to Windows?

CS: Chromebooks are well-suited for people who already do most of their computing through the web browser and spend the majority of their time line. Chromebooks offer these users an incredibly simple, speedy and secure computing experience centred around the web.

MB: Isn’t a weakness of Chrome that it relies on Windows to run?

CS: The Chrome browser runs on a range of operating systems, including Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows and Linux.

MB: Is it a Windows or a Mac OS replacement?

CS: Chromebooks are ideal for people who live their life on the web, and are looking for a faster, simpler and more secure computing experience. For some people, it might be the only machine they need.

MB: Netscape [one of the first web browsers] pronounced in the 1990s that the browser would replace the OS — is this a fulfillment of that dream?

CS: Eric Schmidt has spoken in depth about Google’s vision for the web, and why he believes Chromebooks represent the future of computing. When he was at Sun, he worked on the 3M range of cloud-connected machines, but the company was ahead of its time – Eric and his colleagues had identified the need for a more connected computing experience, but the technology didn’t exist to make it a viable reality. But now it does – the modern internet makes it incredibly easy to build great web apps that provide a superlative browsing experience, while the growing proliferation of Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity means it’s easier than ever to get online wherever you are.

MB: Chrome OS is a strike at the very heart of Microsoft, which at its core is an OS Software company — how has MS reacted to the news?

CS: You’ll have to ask Microsoft about that.

MB: What is your business model around Chrome OS? Where is Google making its money?

CS: Anything that is good for consumers and for the web is good for Google. Chromebooks are designed for people who live on the web. Allowing people to do more online, in less time, and with greater ease and security, is a benefit to Google.

MB: Surely that is not sustainable, are there plans in the future to introduce advertising on Chrome OS?

CS: We’ve currently got no plans to bring advertising to Chromebooks or the Chrome-based operating system.

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