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Google delays netbook plans for Chrome OS to mid 2011

Apps before the OS

In an effort to make sure there are apps for the Chrome OS when the first netbooks using it launch next year, Google has worked to improve its Chrome browser as the core platform for these web apps. However, the web browser is seen by most users as a way to access apps in a pinch, rather than as delivering an equal experience to native apps running on Windows or Mac OS X.

Users' preference for "real apps" is indicated by the rapid uptake of iPhone and iPad apps, and the very limited role web apps have played on mobile devices. One negative aspect of web apps is related to performance.

To address this, Google has announced Crankshaft, a fast new compilation infrastructure for its V8 JavaScript engine in Chrome, which is intended to speed the performance of web apps by 50 percent and enable them to launch as much as 12 percent faster.

The company also launched its Chrome Web Store (shown below), a new website modeled to look identical to Apple's iTunes App Store. Google plans to use the new market to distribute free and paid apps, extensions and themes for its Chrome browser, and in the future, netbooks running Chrome OS exclusively.

Chrome Web Store

Limited enthusiasm for web apps

This is nearly the opposite of Apple's rollout of the iPhone and iPad. The iPhone hit the market a year before any third party apps were available, but its installed base created a instant market for mobile apps once the store was ready to open. The iPad was also released with only a few apps available at launch (notably including Apple's own iWork suite), but the new device rapidly filled out a large portfolio of optimized software for itself based on its association with the popular iOS platform.

Google is banking that its existing desktop Chrome web browser users will download (and buy) web apps in sufficient volume to support the software demands of a new class of web-only netbook devices next year, a strategy that could backfire if users continue to respond to web apps with the limited enthusiasm seen so far.

In contrast to the blockbuster success of the iPhone and iPad App Stores, Apple's own Safari Extensions program has only seen limited interest, something the company appears to have anticipated given its measured efforts in supporting Extensions in a simple gallery as opposed to a full fledged App Store of its own.

Instead of attempting to sell web apps, Apple is now concentrating on opening a new Mac App Store to deliver native apps for its desktop users with the same kind of simplicity in shopping, installation and updating as introduced by the iPhone and iPad.

Google's new version of open

Apps in the Chrome Web Store are interactive web apps built using HTML5, but are only designed to run within Google's Chrome browser. The open source community was outraged when Apple introduced demonstrations of HTML5 features that assumed the use of its Safari browser, but so far there does not seem to be any issues with Google's construction of a proprietary subset of HTML5 as a platform that only runs on Google's own browser.

Apple was similarly taken to task for releasing its own WebKit as an open fork of KHTML in a way that did not make it easy enough for KHTML developers to rapidly reuse Apple's own code contributions, but Google has so far not been criticized for adding features to Chrome in a way that can't be readily used by other WebKit browsers.

One example is Chrome's novel multiprocess architecture, which isolates web plugins and web site instances in tabs, preventing crashes or security exploits in one tab or plugin from affecting what is happening in the rest of the browser. Google didn't contribute this back to WebKit, so Apple is now working to add its own split process isolation model to WebKit2 in a way all users of WebKit can benefit from.