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Google’s Chrome OS pivot is more important than you think

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Don’t look at it now, Chrome OS is about to undergo the biggest and most revolutionary change in platform history.

This is something I’ve actually heard since April, but for the first time this week it’s officially starting to take shape. And while its practical and surface-level importance is arguably great, the philosophical effect of the shift may be the most monumental of all.

Back gang. We have a serious and deep idea.

Chrome OS and browser infrastructure

Beyond the surface, we’ll secondly explore the effects of the next level of this movement, but first let’s explain the basics of what’s happening here and why it’s important from a practical point of view. For those of you who don’t know, Google is working on an ambitious plan to separate Chrome and browsers from the Chrome OS operating system. At the moment, Chrome itself is an integral part of Chrome OS. It is built directly into the operating system. And it creates some unfortunate challenges.

By integrating your browser into your operating system, Google will not be able to update your actual browser if your Chromebook no longer receives OS-level upgrades. Also, even if your Chromebook has longer OS support than ever before, continuous browser updates are usually fast, frequent, and very important, which is a bit of a disadvantage compared to other computers. Will be. They address endless security vulnerabilities and keep you safe while browsing our wobbled old web.

Chromebooks also update their browser when the device leaves the active support window, so we don’t recommend using it, especially in security-critical business scenarios. This is in stark contrast to what you see on Windows systems, where the browser Chrome is permanently updated, for example, regardless of what’s happening at the system level.

In addition, by integrating the browser into the operating system, Google cannot deploy patches as quickly and efficiently as if the browser existed as its own stand-alone element. As my colleague and fellow Google scholar Kevin Tofel points out, Chrome OS updates usually arrive two weeks after the Chrome browser update for other platforms. System update. It takes time to process and deliver.

All of this is that the gracefulness of separating the browser from the operating system in Chrome OS certainly makes a lot of sense. This will allow Chromebooks to run at least reasonably well after the end of sale, allowing Google to deliver browser updates at the same pace as those offered on other platforms. In a sense, Google has been able to pull parts of its operating system out of Android for years, convert it to standalone elements, and update it quickly and frequently, without the need for a formal OS rollout. I will.

And the big gasping is only the surface level part of the story.

Chrome OS-Chrome =?

The Android analogy is great, but with Chrome OS there are other whole new layers (and yes, we’re officially moving on to the “next level of impact” part of the puzzle). After all, Chrome OS was originally designed as the Chrome operating system. The Chrome browser is intentionally built into the core. So hell, that was all the point of why the Chromebook was created.

As Google put it when it introduced Chrome OS in 2009 (emphasis is mine):

Google Chrome is designed for users who search for information on the web, check emails, check news, shop, and stay in touch with friends. However, the operating system on which the browser runs was designed in an era when the web did not exist. So today we are announcing a new project that is a natural extension of Google Chrome, the Google Chrome operating system. This is an attempt to rethink the way the operating system should be.

Let’s say it again: Google Chrome operating system. Anyway, it’s easy to forget these days that Chrome OS actually expresses or used to.

Do you remember? Initially, Chrome OS was literally just a “browser in the box” full-screen Chrome window, with no desktop, even like a traditional app, with no settings or options. That “browser-in-box” feature has long remained a misleading misunderstanding for Chromebooks, but at first it was really accurate and by design it was.

Since then, Chrome OS has slowly but surely left the Chrome operating system in its true sense. Acquired traditional OS elements such as desktop, taskbar, and multitasking interface, gradually becoming more consistent and connected with Android’s cousins. Aside from visuals, the platform has gained support for Android apps, then Linux apps, and is on the verge of gaining support for Windows apps (at least in an enterprise environment, Google has expanded the appeal of Chromebooks in particular. The emphasis is on). ..

As I mentioned earlier this summer, Chrome OS has gone from an “empty OS” to an “all OS”, far from its original purpose as a Chrome operating system. And this latest move is to completely disconnect the Chrome browser from the operating system, which seems like a formal approval of the transition. The official name is that Chrome OS is no longer the Chrome operating system, no matter what it is called.

Of course, after all, Chrome OS isn’t the Chrome operating system, it’s been named for a long time. So what role does Chrome play in even the current incarnation of Chrome OS? This software is basically just an operating system that uses Chrome as your browser. Even system settings that are tightly integrated with browser settings have been separated as their own entities since this time last year. Dechromizing the Chrome OS is a change that Google has made for quite some time, and this is the next logical step in its migration.

Sure, the separation of Chrome and Chrome OS may seem formal at this point, but there’s no mistake about it. This is a huge change from what the software was originally designed for, and a big perception of what it really is.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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