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February 13, 2013

Google OS, Developed in 2006?

Update: Peter Kasting, an engineer on the Chrome team, says that this story could be inaccurate: "I was skeptical of this story, and according to a fellow Chrome developer, there's no connection between Jeff's work and Chrome OS". Jeff Nelson has a patent for "Network based operating system across devices", but it's only vaguely related to Chrome OS. His LinkedIn page claims "Mr. Nelson invented Google Chrome OS while working at Google in 2006."

Was Chrome OS developed before Google Chrome? Jeff Nelson, a former Google engineer, says that he started working on a Google OS prototype in 2006. The goal was to make Firefox run faster, so he used this browser.

"It was a chopped down Linux distribution - as so many 'new' operating systems are, these days. I wrote the first version as early as July 2006 and showed it around to management. Instead of launching a project, the response was extremely tepid. My boss complained, 'You can't use it on an airplane.' Actually, you could as, under the covers, it was still a bare-bones Linux distribution and could execute any Linux program installed on it," Jeff explains. "The main priority when I started constructing the operating system was the need for speed - to create a super-fast operating system."

Jeff was developing web apps at Google and he had to restart the browser frequently. "Restarting the web browser was a particularly slow operation, often taking 30-45 seconds, whether IE or Firefox, Linux or Windows. However, even simple tasks such as displaying a directory in a file explorer were unreasonably slow operations, requiring several seconds for a task that should be nearly instantaneous. (...) The solution? Move the entire desktop operating system into RAM. By moving the entire operating system into RAM, that immediately took off the table the largest performance bottlenecks in the operating system: File I/O."

Most tasks were now completed almost instantly, Firefox restarted in 1 second and even the code compiled faster. The problem was that RAM is a volatile memory, so you could lose data if you didn't save it to the disk. He solved the problem by only using web apps and performing some backups to a local storage media. Web apps solved many other problems: avoiding software installation, using less storage, many apps weren't available for Linux.

"Thus, tracking down web apps to replace any and all functionality normally found on a desktop, became a priority. That's how the seeds of the webapps on the Chromium desktop, albeit originally written in HTML and running on Firefox, were planted," concludes Jeff.


Google released a lot of web apps in 2006: Google Chat, Google Page Creator, Google Calendar, Google Spreadsheets, Google Docs, Picasa Web Albums, Google Apps for Your Domain. Chrome was launched 2 years later and the first prototype Chromebook (Cr-48) was available in December 2010.

{ via Chrome Story}

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