Recently Google announced that it is creating a Cloud OS called Google Chrome OS. They describe it as an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks and will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010.
In a post on the Google Blog they shed some light on the proposed Google OS.
Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We're designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don't have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.
Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.
More generally you can think of a Cloud OS as being similar to that of the Apple iPhone, where certain applications are loaded directly on the phone and where other application components remain on a server somewhere in the cloud. This hybrid model (intercloud) seems particularly well suited to emerging economies (Think India, China, etc), where software licensing can be prohibitively expensive. The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project which started the whole netbook craze coming to mind.
As I've said before, I find this hybrid cloud model particular interesting for cloud OS / netbooks where a user may be given a netbook or thin client that contains a users core identity, favorites etc while the majority of the functionality is loaded via the cloud. I will also point out that Google's Cloud OS ambitions sounds an awful like Microsoft's Software + Services philosophy. A combination of local software and Internet services interacting with one another.
Obviously Google isn't the first in the Cloud OS market, last year Good OS introduced a operating system for cloud computing appropriately called "Cloud," which is the successor to company's Linux-based gOS. I don't imagine Good OS are particularly happy about the news of an "official" Google OS.
Currently the cloud centric operating space is in its infancy with Linux distro's such as Ubuntu and Red Hat struggling to find a position in a world where the operating system is a somewhat meaningless commodity. I think the bigger question moving forward is whether or not the OS matters at all in a cloud based environment. Regardless heavy weight OS vendors such as Microsoft are quickly moving forward entering the nascent market. It seems that the future of the OS lies in the cloud.