Why Google Chrome OS is Exciting

As a follow-up to my last post on developing a new operating system, I wanted to write a little about the recently announced Google Chrome OS. It seems to me that Google might be doing what I recommended.

When Palm announced its webOS for the Palm Pre I was very, very excited. I think the web development stack is pretty amazing. The fundamental building blocks of a website (HTML, CSS and Javascript) are all individually simple enough to understand but also very powerful. They facilitate the use of good design principles like the separation of content from behavior from style, to DRY. Are they perfect? No, but they keep getting better. Well, the Palm webOS made it so you could write native applications for a device using this same stack. This seemed to me to be a world-changing development.

But, as it turns out, the Palm Pre didn’t revolutionize the world with the webOS. Here is famed developer Jamie Zawinski talking about his switch from the Pre to the iPhone:

It seems to me that the only way this phone is going to be usable is for it to get literally 10× faster across the board. There was a speed improvement of maybe 10% between WebOS 1.0 and 1.2.1, so I think it’s safe to assume that they’ve already picked the low-hanging fruit.

Also interesting was John Gruber’s comment in his post about Jamie Zawinski switching phones:

It’s worth recalling that Apple had a similar idea to WebOS for the iPhone, where certain apps would run as Dashboard-style widgets, written in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Apple abandoned the idea in the six months between the iPhone’s January 2007 announcement and when it went on sale at the end of June, concluding that performance for such apps was unacceptable and that they should go native Cocoa across the board.

Apparently, webOS is just slow. And this is where the Google Chrome OS comes in. It is being targeted for Netbooks but will be open source so you can install it wherever you like. Having a ‘web OS’ on hardware that can run it quickly might make it what I dreamed Palm’s webOS was going to be. Granted I have neither used a Palm Pre or looked into developing for it, so I don’t know what it is like. But this is another thing in favor of the Google Chrome OS. I don’t have to buy a phone to try it out.

There aren’t a lot details available about the Google Chrome OS, yet. If it just ends up being a glorified browser then I don’t think it will be that big of a deal. It won’t be a big deal to me at least. I need my command line! But if it allows web developers to write native applications (and this means having access to the filesystem, hardware, and system libraries) using open web technologies, well that would truly be amazing.