Was the Chrome Browser an Operating System Test Bed?
For everyone who can't wait until next year to get their hands on a Chrome netbook, take solace in Google’s original flavor Chrome browser. After all, thanks to some innovative features, and an array of available apps, the browser is basically an operating system onto itself.
Whether Windows or DOS or Linux, the operating system has three main functions: connect the user to memory, run applications and ensure that those programs don’t interfere with each other. By providing access to cloud computing storage and direct connection to local printers, interfacing with cloud applications and isolating programs running in different tabs from each other, the Chrome browser already fulfills many of those functions.
"The important point is that the modern browser is an application delivery system, much like an operating system," said Jeffery Chase, a professor of computer science at Duke University, and a specialist in operating systems. "When the browser becomes the primary user interface, and the primary application, the line between the browser and the operating system really start to blur."
The difference between old-style operating systems and browsers that perform many of the same functions comes down to trust. When an operating system runs a program from a local hard drive, it assumes the user, who has bought and installed the application, knows the program does not contain dangerous malware. Web browsers can't operate with that level of trust, since the user can't physically verify where the software came from, Chase told TechNewsDaily.
For Google, the Chrome browser served as a laboratory where protection schemes could be tested that would enable a fully fledged operating system to run smoothly in the low-trust Internet environment.
When a user runs an unknown application or plugin in their Chrome browser, the browser segregates that program from the rest of the computer. This process, called sandboxing, takes up more memory, but it also prevents a single application crash from bringing down the entire browser, or a single malware infection from spreading through the entire computer, Chase said.
Operating systems have been using sandboxing for decades, but Chrome became the first browser to use it. This feature allows Chrome to safely run a wider range of cloud-based applications than other browsers. And by enabling more application use, Chrome blurs the line between browser and OS more than ever before.
But despite its many advances, the Chrome OS needed a number of different components before it could move from a browser to a full-fledged operating system. For one, it needed the ability to communicate with local hardware such asa screen, input device and Wi-Fi card. Perhaps more important, it needed actual cloud applications to run.
Right now, the biggest barrier between the union of browser and operating system remains the dearth of available programs. Google Apps provides a spreadsheet program and word processor, but where are the music player, the games and the video editing software?
Until programs like Adobe Photoshop and games like Fallout 3 become available entirely online, browsers will remain just another program that runs on an operating system, and not the OS itself.