Archive for the ‘operating systems’ Category

Five Questions About Google Chrome OS

Google announced it will release a new operating system, the long-fabled Google OS, late Tuesday night. While details are currently limited to a short post on the Google Blog, the idea outlined is an operating system built on top of Linux and running primarily a web browser for access to online apps like Gmail, Google Docs and the rest of the Google suite.

Google says it’s working with netbook manufacturers to get Google Chrome OS-powered netbooks to the market in 2010, and it’s not hard to see how netbooks could benefit from the new, lightweight OS and its cloud-based apps.

But at the same time, Google’s announcement reads like classic vaporware, raising far more questions than it answers.

Is the world ready for the cloud?

Forget connection issues, Wi-Fi dead zones and the potential security and privacy risks involved with hosting your data in cloud, what about far more basic issues — how are you going to get music on your iPod? How will you run games? How will you print a document?

After all, Apple already made an admirable effort to turn the iPhone into a cloud-based computing system and we all know how that ended — with a native SDK that sent even the most successful web app developers scurrying to learn C.

Even Google quickly released a native search application for the iPhone, despite having already adapted most of its web-based offerings to work with the small screen. And while we’re huge fans of the potential that offline storage in HTML 5 offers, even we’re willing to admit that the web-based Gmail interface is dog slow compared to the iPhone-native Mail app.

Interestingly, Google isn’t the first company to try to turn its web-based apps into the basis for a lightweight operating system. Good OS previously announced Cloud, an operating system that “integrates a web browser with a compressed Linux operating system kernel for immediate access to the internet, integration of browser and rich client applications.”

Thus far, while Good OS has managed to find its way onto a few netbooks, the OS is far from a success.

Cross-Platform Web Apps?

Perhaps the most intriguing tidbit in Google’s announcement is the statement that the core building blocks of Chrome OS apps will be cross-platform.

It certainly sounds good, but we’re wondering how that’s going to work — in particular, how will offline data storage be handled? There’s the Gears plug-in for browsers, but Gears is rough around the edges and slow to update for new browser releases. For example, Gears still doesn’t work with the latest versions of Firefox or Safari (a beta version of Gears for Safari does exist, but it requires some workarounds to avoid bugs).

There’s a possibility HTML 5′s offline storage mechanism will solve this particular problem, but with IE8 offering little support for HTML 5, it isn’t going to be cross-platform. And it’s difficult to fault Microsoft for hesitating to support HTML 5, given that the spec is still a draft and subject to change.

Given the complexities involved, it seems unlikely that Chrome OS apps will be truly cross-platform — unless Google just means cross-platform in the sense that the apps will run in any web browser, but that’s hardly remarkable enough to tout in a press release.

A browser bundled with the OS, now where have we heard that before?

Google’s Chrome OS announcement says the Chrome web browser will be bundled with the operating system, which is quite simply “Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel.”

Given Microsoft’s history with bundling browsers into the OS and the subsequent anti-trust lawsuits, we assume Google is going to offer some desktop programming tools that will allow other browser makers to run their software on Chrome OS as well. If not, expect Google to experience its own dose of regulator wrath.

Will Chrome OS offer better privacy?

Google is already tracking your searches, the links you click, the e-mails you send and the sites you visit. Are you ready for Google to know every last detail of everything you do from the minute you turn on your netbook? While all that data is anonymized and (theoretically) not traceable to you, it may still give concerned users reason to pause.

Will Chrome OS offer improved security and virus protection?

Google says, as it did upon the announcement of the Chrome browser, that going back to the drawing board will mean a more secure system less prone to viruses and malware. That sounds good, but it also makes for an unknown, untested system. Which would you rather use, an OS like Unix that’s nearly 40 years old and has been attacked from every angle and patched over time, or a system that’s ten minutes old and sounds good on paper, but has no experience in the wild?


Perhaps we’re being overly hard on an operating system that is specifically targeted at netbooks — an underpowered and still very niche market — but Google’s announcement is uncharacteristically short on details, making it hard to see it as anything other than an attempt to generate hype.

However, if we are to assume Google will do a good enough job answering our last four questions relating to the technical and legal details of the new OS, it’s really the first question that’s the biggest. And, it may be rendered moot by the time Google Chrome OS is released to the consumer market.

Remember the video Google released a few weeks ago showing spot interviews with people on the street? Regular, non-technical Americans were asked generic questions about their web browser, and almost everyone showed some level of confusion about the difference between a browser, the web, an e-mail client, a search engine and even the computer itself. This general ignorance about under-the-hood computing is Google’s biggest opportunity to shine. If the company can offer a user experience that’s just a web browser, it may succeed in fully blurring the lines between computer, desktop and web among the average consumer who, frankly, couldn’t care less about the differences.

Google will need to work out a way for users to interface with common devices like cameras, iPods and printers — tying them to Picasa, Amazon (like the MP3 store partnership the companies have on Android) and Google Docs. But if it succeeds, the just-a-browser OS could become something of a hit despite the hurdles.

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How to Get Your Copy of Windows 7 RC1 Tuesday

Microsoft will make the release candidate of Windows 7, the next version of its desktop operating system, available as a free download on Tuesday.

Interested parties should sign up for a account (free registration will be required, so do it now) and watch Tuesday. The company will announce the download’s availability at some point during the day. Also, be sure to follow Webmonkey on Twitter, as we will let you know as soon as Windows 7 RC1 is ready to roll.

After the crushing server load brought on by thousands of users eager to get their hands on the beta release earlier this year, hopefully Microsoft is better prepared this time around. However, even if the downloads go smoothly, there are a few things you need to know before making the leap.

Both the downloads and the product keys needed to activate the installation are free. Also, Microsoft says Windows 7 RC1 will be available at least through June 30, 2009, with no limits on the number of downloads or product keys available

Officially there is no way to upgrade from either Windows 7 beta or Windows XP to the new release candidate. The only supported upgrade path is from Windows Vista SP1. The Engineering Windows blog says, “Upgrading from one pre-release build to another is not a scenario we want to focus on because it is not something real-world customers will experience.”

Instead Microsoft is encouraging you to “revert to a Vista image and upgrade or to do a clean install.”

Knowing that not all its beta testers will want to wipe an existing install, there is a workaround available that involves editing a configuration file, which will bypass the version check that runs before Windows 7 installs. See the Engineering Windows blog for complete instructions. However, be forewarned that Microsoft admits this method sometimes results in bugs and unexpected behavior.

We suggest going with the clean install method, but if you don’t want to re-configure your entire system, at least there is a way around the beta upgrade limitations.

And Mac users, good news: RC1 reportedly solves the glitches that many people encountered trying to install Windows 7 through Boot Camp. If you were among the many that had trouble with the beta release, it might be worth trying again with RC1.

As for what to expect in RC1, think refinements — UI polishes, slight speed bumps and overall stability improvements.

The primary purpose of a Release Candidate is for hardware and software partners to test against in order to ensure their various devices and applications will work when the final version of Windows 7 becomes available in December or January.

There are a few new features, most notably the virtual “XP Mode” which will allow you to seamlessly run Windows XP applications in a virtual environment, right alongside your newer Windows 7 applications. See our early coverage for a full rundown on the new features in the Windows 7 release candidate.

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Windows 7 Release Candidate Hits the Streets

Windows 7 RC1

Microsoft’s Windows 7 Release Candidate is now available, the company announced Thursday. Registered developers can get their copy of Windows 7 RC1 through the MSDN and TechNet developer programs.

Mortals like you and I will have to wait until Tuesday, May 5, when anyone interested in testing Windows 7 RC1 will be able to download it from the Microsoft site for free. The company will make the download available some time during the day on Tuesday, though it isn’t saying exactly when.

To get your copy on Tuesday, go to and log in with your credentials. You’ll get a free product key and a link to download the disk image. Both 32-bit and 64-bit versions will be available. It doesn’t matter if you’re already running the Windows 7 beta or not. RC1 will reflect the same code that will be found in Windows 7 Ultimate, the desktop environment with the most bells and whistles. So, early testers can experience the full capabilities of the next Windows.

If the public beta release of Windows 7 earlier this year is any indicator, we should expect a huge flood of interest at Microsoft’s download site as soon as the new software is available.

Jeff Price of Microsoft’s Windows Ecosystem Team tells Webmonkey that the company experienced “a bit of a hiccup” with January’s beta release, but he promised that things would be smoother this time around.

“The public beta was a good dry run for this release,” he says. Part of the reason might be that not a whole lot has changed since the beta — Windows 7 RC1 is primarily about bug fixes, speed boosts and other refinements, not a slew of exciting new features. The primary purpose of a Release Candidate is for hardware and software partners to test against in order to ensure their various devices and applications will work when the final version of Windows 7 becomes available in December or January.

There are a few new features, most notably the virtual “XP Mode” which will allow you to seamlessly run Windows XP applications in a virtual environment, right alongside your newer Windows 7 applications. Although XP Mode is available with the release candidate, it will be a separate download. It will also be a separate download for Windows 7 Ultimate and Professional users when the final versions ship.

Windows 7 RC1 also offers an easier way to stream music and movies from your home to remote locations. While Windows has long allowed you to share movies and music between PCs on your home network, Windows 7 now lets you stream the same files to your laptop, even if it’s no longer on your home network. While it’s possible to do that without Windows 7, Price says the new configuration tools for Remote Media Streaming make the process dead simple to set up.

One thing to keep in mind if you’re planning to upgrade from the beta to the release candidate — well, uh, it doesn’t work like that. You’ll need perform a clean install of Windows 7 RC 1, or, if you haven’t flirted with the beta, you can upgrade straight from Windows Vista.

Of course the real question is, now that a release candidate has arrived, when will we see the final release of Windows 7?

“It’s all based on feedback,” Price says. Microsoft collected a staggering 200 TB of anonymous user data during the beta phase and used that information to build this release candidate. The company expects to collect and analyze even more data with the new RC1.

Expect that process to take a little while, though. Price did tell us that the final version of Windows 7 will arrive no later than January, 2010, three years after Vista’s debut.

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File Under: operating systems

Windows Vista SP2 Lives, Will Arrive Q2 2009

Microsoft is gearing up to release the second service pack for its beleaguered Vista operating system. Vista SP2 doesn’t have a firm release date just yet, though Microsoft says it will arrive in the second quarter of 2009, which puts it well ahead of the coming Windows 7 release.

If you’re pining for Windows 7, but stuck with Vista for the time being, the Vista SP2 update does promise a few goodies that may well make it worth the upgrade.

The most notable new features in SP2 are the ability to burn Blu-Ray discs natively in Vista and the new Windows Connect Now, which makes wi-fi configuration much easier. The Windows Search feature has also reportedly been improved and should be faster.

Vista SP2 will also include a number of bug fixes and all the incremental updates rolled out since SP1 was released.

I’ll admit that ever since the Windows 7 beta arrived, Vista has disappeared from my PCs in favor of dual booting XP and Windows 7, which is shaping up to be what Vista should have been. Still, if you’ve been having problems with Vista, perhaps SP2 can tide you over until Windows 7 is released.

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Windows 7 Will Include “XP Mode” For Compatibility

Microsoft is planning to announce a new “XP Mode” feature for Windows 7 with the upcoming release candidate, due May 5. The new XP Mode will allow users to run Windows XP applications under Windows 7, using technology very similar to Virtual PC.

However, unlike Virtual PC itself, which runs as separate desktop in a separate window, XP Mode will let you run your XP apps right along side those that have been updated to work with Windows 7. Under the hood, XP Mode apps will be running through a virtual machine, which means they might be a bit slower, but at least they’ll be available.

The move is similar to what Apple did with “Classic Mode” during the company’s transition from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X.

XP Mode will go a long way toward eliminating users’ hesitation about upgrading to the new OS. Also, it will side-step any headaches along the lines of what Microsoft experienced when its “Windows Vista compatible” claim failed during the transition from XP to Vista, since the company will be able to claim Windows 7 is compatible with just about every Windows application currently on the market. That’s a huge win for Microsoft, especially with its corporate users, who often have custom applications that would require extensive retooling before the companies can to upgrade to the latest version of Windows.

While XP Mode will no doubt eliminate one of the main reasons to not upgrade your OS — losing access to older applications — it also means that in the future Microsoft won’t need to invest as much time and energy into ensuring that Windows is backwards-compatible. Instead the company can focus on new features and improvements while offering a way to run your older applications.

One thing to keep in mind — the XP Mode features will likely not be a part of the broad Windows 7 release. Instead, XP Mode will be separate download available for free to those who opt for the Windows Professional and Ultimate editions.Of course it remains to be seen how well XP Mode integrates with Windows 7 and how much of a performance hit the virtualization makes. Still, Apple’s Classic Mode wasn’t the speediest of apps, but it did go a long way to smoothing the OS transition. If Microsoft can pull off the same with XP Mode, it should help convince reluctant users to go ahead and make the leap to Windows 7.

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