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Speculations regarding Google Chrome OS

Posted by joconner on July 9, 2009 at 1:57 AM PDT

Today's announcement of Google's Chrome OS is exciting in a few ways. I think it has implications for Java developers. With hindsight, I now think that Larry Ellison was hinting about Google's Chrome OS when he expressed some of his desires for JavaFX on small netbook-like devices.

So, without any real knowledge and armed with nothing more than a vivid imagination, I provide some of my predictions/speculations for the upcoming Google Chrome OS and the devices it will power:

  1. Google Chrome OS will be a slightly more beefy Android OS. More beefy because it will have additional hardware driver support you might find in a netbook. However, its essence will be Android OS.
  2. The Chrome browser (or a slimmed down cousin) will be the primary application on that OS. It's already integrated into Android via Webkit
  3. The developer API will be very similar to what Android G1 developers already use. Android G1 apps are essentially Java apps written to a Java-like API. Same Java language on top of the most important, core packages of the Java SE platform. And, of course, Google won't be able to call it a "Java" platform because it will be stripped down to what Google engineers consider only the core, "good" parts of Java SE APIs + Google's own Android APIs of course.
  4. Google Chrome OS will be attractive to Java engineers because it looks and feels so much like the the JVM...except it's really the Dalvik VM. Many simple applications that run on Java SE will be able to run on the Dalvik VM after a recompile. Or maybe you'll just have to run your class files through a simple converter to target the Dalvik VM. At any rate, Java developers will feel right at home.
  5. Google Chrome OS devices will need to get onto the network easily, seamlessly, regardless of Wi-Fi availability. Google really does believe that "the network is the computer". Without the internet, these devices will be severely hampered. Expect these devices to have multiple network access technologies built in. Wifi hardware will obviously be on board. But you can imagine it also having a cellular transmitter/receiver built-in too.
  6. Remember all that cellular radio spectrum that Google was interested in only one or two years back? Wouldn't it be just an awesome thing if Google purchased a huge portion of that and used it to make their Google Chrome OS devices be able to instantly jump onto that for network access? You buy the device, punch in a pre-purchased code for access, and your notebook is on the net in 5 minutes! It will be incredibly, insanely easy to get on the network with your Google Chrome OS-powered device.
  7. Hey, what's that Google Voice project anyway. Only one of the coolest telephony projects around! Maybe Google will leverage this service? Here's a scenario for you: you buy a Google Chrome OS device, open it up, agree to the terms of a Google voice membership, get a Google voice number and Google account (if you don't already have one), and the device then connects to the network using the built-in cellular hardware to connect to some of that cellular spectrum that Google will or has already purchased.
  8. After all of this, or perhaps even before this, we all start to feel a little uneasy about just how pervasive Google really is. And despite Google's mistrust and derision of Microsoft, they begin to look a little bit like Microsoft too...really, really big and really, really powerful and located at every digital turn. But this time, instead of controlling your PC, they control your network. Ooh, there's a suspenseful novel in there somewhere.

Ok, some of that's just silly, crazy talk...or is it? We'll see over the next few months.

Oh, one last thing. I just cannot resist the urge to compare Google Chrome OS to Sun's Java OS. Do you remember that? I could hardly find any references to it, although I did find an old article called Inside the IBM JavaOS Project. At some point, Sun apparently enslisted IBM to help. At any rate, the Java OS project started (and ended) a long, long time ago. It's been a decade at least. Remember the Hot Java browser? I actually ran it and used it. I remember that one of our tests at Sun was to run the SwingSet demo on it. But now I'm just distracted. What was I saying? Oh yes, there are even more similarities. Java OS is to Google Chrome OS as the Hot Java browser is to the Chrome browser. Maybe Google Chrome OS will finally be the successful reincarnation of JavaOS?

It's all fun to think about, and as I suggested, pure speculation at this point.

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If it should be a WebOS it should also have support for Flash 10+, Silverlight, Java, JavaFX, Adobe AIR and stuff. A self called web-OS without those technologies might be difficult to be sold to Joe Customer.

I have lobbied (well, the occasional annoying email and random blog or forum post) Sun in the past to release the sources for both JavaOS and HotJava. Much of that was driven wanting to see what they could do for the Java Isolate problem space.

"add Isolates support to the JVM." Do you know that there is a complete specification for that? It's JSR 121 and it's three years old. Nothing has been done after the specification.

"Google can do technically to stop somebody else to provide a JRE" Technically. In the perspective of "moral suasion", I'm sure Google can do a lot (surely a lot on Sun in the current situation, maybe after the Oracle buy things will be different). This would not be a problem for Java, as it's FLOSS and everybody could do the port. It could be a problem for JavaFX. I think there are no technical reasons for not having JavaFX on Android, but...

The one thing I like about the Chrome OS/Browser is that they are taking the isolation concept to a new level within the browser with the use of separate address space for each tab. I wonder when Sun will wake up and smell the coffee and add Isolates support to the JVM.

If the Chrome OS's browser is basically identical to the Chrome we know, i.e. a full featured browser including the interfaces necessary for plugins, then there's litte Google can do technically to stop somebody else to provide a JRE. Even in Android it should be relatively easy to port Java, remarkably after they introduced the native SDK. And considering that Chrome OS will be a browser-centric OS, I doubt very much that Google would remove the plugin capacity to exclude not only Java but other important plugins like Flash, Acrobat Reader, custom security plugins used by online banks, etc. Smartphones can get away with this because the devices are not powerful enough, have no decent displays or keyboards, for a first-class unrestricted browsing experience; and users don't expect full PC-level functionality from these devices.

"Chrome OS will be powerful enough to run the full Java SE" ... it depends on whether Google will allow us to run it.

According to some reports, e.g from Ars, you are off the mark with some items: Chrome OS will not be based on Android, will not have a Java SDK - unless they add this as a bridge to run Android apps but that would be certainly secondary, and probably optional. Its browser will be Google Chrome with the V8 JavaScript VM (Android uses SquirrelFish); and the brower will be the primary SDK - augmented by Google's RIA tech like Google Gears and O3D. In this sense, the best comparision is with Palm's new webOS. Of course I'd expect Google to reuse many low-level components from Android, like their customized Linux kernel, network stack, core media support, and other components that would be needed in a netbook. Chrome OS will be powerful enough to run the full Java SE, so we can forget the major distraction that Android was. ;-)

Probably a better comparison would be with OpenMoko.