Google Chrome Web browser: Is it an OS in waiting?

Google announced that Chrome OS will be available in late 2010, but the Chrome Web browser already contains some OS-like features, perhaps hinting at what's to come.

In July, Google unveiled a new beta version of Chrome, an Internet browser that has stirred up the world of Web browsers since its introduction in September of 2008. The latest Chrome beta continues Google's effort to achieve ever-faster browser performance, but it comes just a month after Google's discussion of a sister Chrome product positioned as an operating system.

A more able browser may be key as developers create more Web server-based applications that are accessed by a diverse set of mobile devices. That seems to be part of Google planning as it begins to re-create the browser experience.

Google's strategy is, "to put the browser on top of Windows and get people used to using it," according to Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst at Emerging Personal Technologies.

The next step, he said, is to "replace Windows with the Chrome OS."

With Chrome, users get all the standard Web2.0 browser features, such as multi-tab browsing and built-in security, along with a host of new options such as process isolation and multi-threading that resemble some operating system traits. Process isolation allows for the quarantining of tabs on the browser so as not to affect the other tabs, thus protecting the data on the other tabs and isolating the problem tab.

"In the ugly old days of DOS, if an application died it took everything down with it. That's really been the world we've been in with browsers until Chrome came along," said Ryan Breen, VP of technology at Gomez, Inc. Multithreading allows several applications to run on multiple tabs at once. "Every process, from its own perspective, is running completely independently and each has total access to the machine," said Breen.

The first OS-like feature Chrome features is a task manager. Similar to the Windows Task Manager, it allows users to manipulate which programs are running and view how much memory is being used. You can even click the hyperlink, "stats for nerds" embedded in the Task Manager and see how much real memory vs. virtual memory is being used. This means more options and visibility for developers trying to debug their applications within the browser.

According to Breen, ChromeOS will be a very slim OS with a graphical interface that gives you a view of what's happening on the lower level, while the Chrome browser seems to have evolved into a "browser/OS hybrid."

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