Android, Chrome May Become Single OS: Rumor Mill - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Mobile // Mobile Devices
Commentary
11/1/2015
11:06 AM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
Commentary
Connect Directly
Google+
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
50%
50%

Android, Chrome May Become Single OS: Rumor Mill

Even if Google ends up ditching Chrome OS as a brand, it seems unlikely that marrying into Android will erase its identity or market niche. The appeal of a sandboxed, manageable computing platform will not go away.

Office 2016: 8 Enterprise-Worthy Features
Office 2016: 8 Enterprise-Worthy Features
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Google is said to be preparing to unify the Android and Chrome operating systems into a single OS in 2017, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. But Hiroshi Lockheimer, head of Android, Chrome OS, and Chromecast, has implied otherwise.

"There's a ton of momentum for Chromebooks, and we are very committed to Chrome OS," said Lockheimer in a tweet. "I just bought two for my kids for schoolwork!"

Google declined to comment. But there's reason to believe the Wall Street Journal has overstated the extent of the union, including this comment posted by Google+ chief architect Yonatan Zunger: "I was wondering WTF was going on there [with the WSJ report], since I would think I would have heard about it before if something this big were going down."

The convergence of Google's mobile and Web-based operating systems has long been a subject of speculation, as it has for Apple, which maintains separate but related mobile and desktop operating systems.

[ Which option is right for you? Read HTML 5 Vs. Native Apps: What's Best For Developers. ]

But the Wall Street Journal's account, based on two unnamed sources, claimed Google will "fold" Chrome OS into Android. This represents the opposite of what Google has been doing, enabling Android apps to run on Chromebooks.

Last year, Google released software called App Runtime for Chrome that allowed Android apps to run on Chrome OS hardware. This addressed one of the principal shortcomings of the Chrome platform -- lack of popular apps.

(Image: Google, altered)

(Image: Google, altered)

The possibility that Google might subsume Chrome OS into Android has left computer security experts concerned that a unified operating system will trade security for popularity. Chromebooks have become popular in schools because they're affordable and easy to manage, in part because of their hardened security.

According to Google's total cost of ownership calculator, the cost of Chrome hardware over three years for a 100-person organization is $107,200, compared to $621,300 for Windows PC. Microsoft, presumably, would arrive at a different set of figures.

One reason Chrome devices are easy to manage is that they're sandboxed and thus protected from much of the damage that can be done by malicious code. Chromebooks don't need to be purged of viruses and re-imaged, a frequent ritual among Windows admins. Android, on the other hand, faces malware risks similar to other popular operating systems. Android may have a poor reputation for security, but that's largely a consequence of Google's Android partners.

What Android lacks is an effective mechanism to send security updates to every device. As a recent University of Cambridge study (partially funded by Google) noted, "The security of Android depends on the timely delivery of updates to fix critical vulnerabilities. Unfortunately few devices receive prompt updates, with an overall average of 1.26 updates per year, leaving devices unpatched for long periods."

Even if Google ends up ditching Chrome OS as a brand, it seems unlikely that marrying into Android will erase its identity or market niche. The appeal of a sandboxed, manageable computing platform will not go away.

(Image: maybefalse/iStockphoto)

(Image: maybefalse/iStockphoto)

If Google is pursuing a unified operating system, it may actually be an attempt to turn Android into a universal runtime. Developer Vlad Filippov has already adapted App Runtime for Chrome to be a runtime for other operating systems that support the Chrome browser such as Linux, OS X, and Windows. His project allows Android apps to run on other operating systems, with limitations. Google could be pursuing something similar, with Android as a universal development platform.

That possibility also exists for Apple's Swift programming language, which, once open-sourced, could evolve to allow Swift apps, via the LLVM compiler, to be built for Android devices. Apple, with its antipathy toward cross-platform development, presumably wouldn't pursue this. But the company might support, or at least tolerate, open-source efforts along these lines to keep developers from drifting into Android's orbit.

Shift In Priorities

Google tipped its hand when it announced its Android-based Pixel C tablet in late September. Its two previous Pixel notebooks ran Chrome OS. The Pixel C demonstrates that Google has made Android its priority. It's a move that makes sense given Android's global popularity.

Perhaps Chrome OS, under a new name like Android Limited, will become a library like Android Auto, Android TV, or Android Wear, offering a restricted feature set for greater security and maintainability. Or Google could be trying to simplify the management of the two operating systems by making them share more plumbing and conventions such as keyboard shortcuts. Android and Chrome OS could converge without becoming one.

The possibility of Android-Chrome OS unification invites a question: Will Java remain the preferred development language? Oracle prevailed in its lawsuit over Google's use of copyrighted Java APIs in Android when the Supreme Court earlier this year refused to hear Google's appeal. Google could avoid liability if its fair-use claim is accepted, but there's a chance Google may have to accept disadvantageous licensing terms from Oracle.

Whether this might affect the viability of Java for Android development remains to seen -- Google's decision to replace Android's Dalvik virtual machine with ART resolved some issues -- but an unfavorable outcome in the Oracle case could push Google to focus on its Go programming language as the preferred way to write Android apps. Doing so might make Android more appealing to developers, as Apple's switch from Objective-C to Swift has done for its platforms.

With Lockheimer suggesting that Chrome OS will remain in some form, we will have to wait -- probably until Google I/O 2016 -- for clarification on the Android master plan.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio
We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
batye
50%
50%
batye,
User Rank: Ninja
11/2/2015 | 2:34:50 PM
Re: An alternative to Windows
@TerryB, I have the same dreams... but nothing is really free... as we do pay for everything one way or other...

maybe not right away but at the end....
batye
50%
50%
batye,
User Rank: Ninja
11/2/2015 | 2:32:22 PM
Re: An alternative to Windows
@Gary_EL, could not agree more it would be nice
batye
50%
50%
batye,
User Rank: Ninja
11/2/2015 | 2:28:52 PM
Re: So who wins?
@StephenR232, I would say from security point of view is a bit scarry... as you have a question how secure is your phone data...
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
11/2/2015 | 1:05:42 PM
Re: An alternative to Windows
@Gary, I think the real question is not whether another o/s replaces Windows but whether thin computing model replaces fat clients. If all your device needs to run is a browser to access all applications, that changes everything.

For example, we use MS Terminal Server and Thin Clients to use RDP to get published desktops to run applications on shopfloor. Thin Clients cost more than a Chromebox now. If I can get all the applications shopfloor needs to run in browser, a Chromebox could be a cheaper way to go. With SaaS solutions like Office 365, you may not to have any installed applications on the end use device.

But server side licensing still presents a problem, regardless of whether you take out end use o/s. Think file serving or print serving from Windows server, including using Sharepoint. You have to buy user or device CALS to use those services, regardless of whether all you clients are actually Chromebox or Windows. Current cloud pricing is way more expensive than Windows CALS for file serving. I'm not aware of any cloud solution for print serving. But if it exists, I'm sure it also more expensive than a one time CAL purchase.

Those are the issues that have to go away before your dream of no Windows becomes a reality. :-) 
Gary_EL
50%
50%
Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
11/1/2015 | 2:20:04 PM
An alternative to Windows
Won't it be wonderful if end users finally have a alternative to whatever Microsoft decides to shove down our throats!
StephenR232
50%
50%
StephenR232,
User Rank: Guru
11/1/2015 | 12:33:06 PM
So who wins?
Does this mean no more local storage on phones or a phone OS your laptop. Neither one sounds great
Commentary
Get Your Enterprise Ready for 5G
Mary E. Shacklett, Mary E. Shacklett,  1/14/2020
Commentary
Modern App Dev: An Enterprise Guide
Cathleen Gagne, Managing Editor, InformationWeek,  1/5/2020
Slideshows
9 Ways to Improve IT and Operational Efficiencies in 2020
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  1/2/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
The Cloud Gets Ready for the 20's
This IT Trend Report explores how cloud computing is being shaped for the next phase in its maturation. It will help enterprise IT decision makers and business leaders understand some of the key trends reflected emerging cloud concepts and technologies, and in enterprise cloud usage patterns. Get it today!
Slideshows
Flash Poll