Meet Google OS: Chrome OS when it was based on Firefox

By on February 14, 2013, 1:30 PM

Former Google engineer and web-based OS pioneer Jeff Nelson recently blogged about the possible origins of Chrome OS and recounts a number of fascinating historical anecdotes. Perhaps his most surprising detail though, is before there was Chrome OS -- or even Chrome, for that matter -- there was Google OS: a Firefox-based platform rejected by Google management.

Nelson was frustrated with slow load times. As a developer, his need to open and close applications hundreds of times throughout his work day made these slow load times painfully obvious. Nelson recounts, "A few seconds here, 45 seconds there, might not sound like much of a delay, but when such delays occur hundreds of times a day, it adds up to a costly amount of time."

Enter Google OS -- Nelson's 2006 brainchild. Google OS was an entirely memory-resident, lightweight, Firefox-centric Linux distribution intensely focused on web apps and speed. He pitched the speedy platform to Google management, but they decided to not pursue the project.

One criticism Nelson received was, "You can't use it on an airplane". Despite its inherent differences though, Google OS was capable of running any Linux program locally from its hard drive.

There was also the matter of running your entire session from volatile memory -- a fact which made many a person uneasy, thanks the potential of data loss from power outages or system instability. Admittedly, running your entire system from a RAM disk with very little local storage meant there wasn't much room to spare either, for locally installed applications and files. As Nelson also noted though, well-written web apps should keep your data safely stowed away online. Meanwhile, network and USB storage could be used to safely store local files.

Google OS, it would seem, was an idea before its time.

In 2007 though, internal betas of Google's Chrome browser began to circulate. Around 2009, the public got their first taste of Chrome OS: a lightweight, Chrome-centric, Linux-based OS with an intense focus on web apps and speed.

Nelson filed a patent in 2009 for his OS idea titled, "Network-based Operating System Across Devices". However, the patent was not awarded until August 7, 2012 -- well after Nelson's departure from Google -- and was subsequently assigned to Google.

Since Nelson's post, a founding member of the Chrome team has shared his doubts about the connection between Nelson and Chrome OS though. "I'm somewhat skeptical of this." Kasting said. "and I've never heard of Jeff or any of the work he describes here.  Certainly Chrome-team management didn't mention or demonstrate any of it to the team at large."

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