By JESSICA E. VASCELLARO
Google Inc. is preparing to launch an operating system for personal computers, a direct assault on the turf of software giant Microsoft Corp., which has long dominated the market for software that runs PC applications.
The Silicon Valley Internet giant announced the new move in a blog post late Tuesday night. It said the software, which will initially target low-end portable PCs called netbooks, would be based on its Chrome Web browser and available to consumers in the second-half of 2010.
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A Google employee rides a bicycle at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
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The post--by Google's Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management, and Linus Upson, its engineering director -- said the operating system would be "lightweight" and optimized for running Web-based applications. Google's goal, they said, is to address shortcomings of PCs -- including security problems and lengthy delays while computers boot up, the Google executives wrote.
"We hear a lot from our users and their message is clear — computers need to get better," they wrote.
Eventually, Google hopes to scale the software to full-scale PC's as well, they wrote.
The effort marks the latest attack by Google on Microsoft, which dominates the market for operating system software that powers computer applications. The Mountain View, Calif., company, which makes 97% of its revenue from online advertising, has been trying to compete with Microsoft and other software makers by offering more software that runs in a Web browser and isn't downloaded directly to computers. Now it appears to be broadening its approach, in a move that could give it greater distribution of its own online software services, including word-processing and email software.
But whether it can chip away at Microsoft's dominance in the market remains unclear. In the months since its launch, Chrome has done little to challenge Microsoft's lead in the browser software. And some hardware companies have been slow to adopt Google software -- like its Android operating system, which is targeted at running applications on mobile phones -- arguing it isn't robust enough to handle many tasks.
The Google blog post stresses that the Chrome operating system is a separate effort from Android -- though, like Android, it will be "open source," meaning other developers can have access to and modify the code.
The software is designed to work on PCs running x86 chips -- the design used by Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. used in most conventional PCs -- as well as chips based on designs from ARM Holdings PLC that are the standard in cellphones and are expected to be used in netbooks later this year, the executives said.
Though the software will be based on the core of Linux, its "kernel" in programming parlance, the Chrome OS, as it is called, will add a new layer of windowing software to manage what a user sees on a display screen. Instead of requiring programmers to write programs specifically for the operating system -- an uphill battle, at a time developers have many choices about where to focus their efforts -- the Google engineers said that the Chrome operating system will simply run programs written for the Web.
"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," the Google executives wrote.
Google's incursion into operating systems could galvanize its critics, including privacy groups and competitors, who argued that the online search company already collects vast amounts of information about consumers' Internet use. While Google is still a tiny player in many of the new markets it is exploring, like mobile phone software and online applications, some worry it could leverage its massive online search market share to quickly grow its share of new industries as well, gathering even more data about its users.
The move comes as the rise of netbooks poses a series of competitive challenges for Microsoft. Several variants of Linux are being offered for the new systems, though the company's aging Windows XP operating system remains prevalent. Besides Android, for example, Intel is backing a Linux-based operating system known as Moblin.