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The State Of Google's Operating Systems

At Google IO, Android and Chrome OS will take center stage.

Google Chrome OS Promises Computing Without Pain
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Slideshow: Google Chrome OS Promises Computing Without Pain
Google will be holding its annual developer conference, Google IO, on Tuesday and Wednesday in San Francisco, Calif., this week and is expected to discuss the state of its two operating systems, Android and Chrome OS, and the status of its partnerships with companies creating Chrome OS hardware.

Android, Google's open source operating system for mobile devices, is already well on its way to ubiquity. Research firm Gartner predicted last month that Android will account for 38% of smartphone sales worldwide by the end of 2011, making Android phones about twice as popular as iOS or Symbian devices among new device buyers. When the metric involves the installed user-base, iOS devices--which includes iPhones, iPods, and iPads--lead Android devices 38 million to 24 million, according to comScore.

Google is likely to provide details about its widely anticipated music service for Android, the status of Android 3.0 ("Honeycomb"), a version of its operating system tuned for tablets, and a preview of the next version of Android ("Ice Cream"), an update expected to unify phone, tablet, and Google TV SDKs.

The challenge for Google's other operating system, Chrome OS, is to emerge from Android's shadow.

Chrome OS is a new open source operating system for Web-oriented computing. It probably has no more than 90,000 users worldwide at the moment, if you count the 60,000 developers who received free Chrome hardware, 24,400 Google employees, and a few thousand people committed enough to the project to install their own builds of Chromium OS, the open source project from which Chrome OS springs.

Chrome OS is not intended as a replacement for general-purpose computers running Linux, Mac OS, or Windows, the major desktop operating systems. Nor is it really an alternative to Android. Google executive Eric Schmidt, when he was CEO, said that Android is an operating system for mobile touch-based devices while Chrome OS is an operating system for devices with keyboards.

However, Chrome OS now has a virtual keyboard and other touch-based elements in its code, which raises questions about whether Chrome and Android will be unified at some point or whether they will co-exist in friendly competition.

Chrome OS is not a tool for heavy-duty content creation. If you want to run After Effects, AutoCAD, Final Cut Pro, Maya, Photoshop, or any number of other industrial-strength, professionally-oriented applications, you need a powerful personal computer with a modern desktop operating system. Chrome OS offers only a subset of the desktop computer experience, a Web browser.

Chrome OS is nothing but the Web; it runs Web apps. That's it.

That's not a bug; it's a feature: Google has done away with the complicated aspects of computing--managing files, applications, drivers, permissions, updates, and the like--in order to provide a better user experience. If you've used Google's Chrome browser, you already have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

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