Ten years ago, the world of computers was forever changed. But it was not because of anything Apple or Microsoft did. Rather, it was thanks to Google.
On June 15, 2011, the first public version of Chrome OS was released. It was alien to many journalists at first, but it eventually started a new type of operating system that is used today in schools, businesses and even in your home.
In the 10 years since its introduction, ChromeOS has really evolved. It has gone from just using a web browser as an operating system to becoming something with features that rival MacOS and even Windows 10. Happy birthday, Google Chrome OS! Here’s a little recap of your journey to celebrate.
Born from a web browser
When Chrome OS was first released in 2011 (after a preview version of Chromium OS in 2009), Google capitalized on the success of the Chrome web browser. Chrome OS was literally created as an extension of Chrome. It was a complete OS consisting of a web browser and only a web browser. It was not a traditional operating system.
There were no download programs or constant updates. Everything in the Chrome OS was web-based, with “links” to your content, known as web applications. Chrome’s user interface provided access to the Internet.
Google introduced its own approach to cloud computing to consumers. It’s a system in which most of your content resides on the Internet, away from the actual device on which the OS is installed. This may seem outlandish, but that’s what made Chrome OS unique. It meant that Chrome OS devices, which we know as Chromebooks, booted up in seconds.
Unlike the lengthy setup required on Windows PCs, it also meant that Chrome OS devices could be fully used in guest mode in seconds. Chrome Web Apps, extensions and all of your content depended on access to Wi-Fi, the Internet and your Google account. Log in to any Chromebook and you’d find all your content there.
Chrome OS was secure and didn’t require antivirus. You didn’t have to deal with the typical difficulties associated with a computer: “Nothing but the Internet,” as Google would say.
Google even partnered with laptop makers, who normally only work with Microsoft and Windows, to extend the reach of Chrome OS. It was a game-changer for the industry.
Google convinced manufacturers to embrace its grand vision of computing, and in July 2011, Samsung and Acer unveiled their first Chromebooks. It was a huge leap for Chrome OS: the platform stopped being a CR-48 Google device held only by a select few influencers, moved beyond what could be installed on existing PCs, and got into the hands of more consumers through specialized hardware.
Evolution beyond the Web browser
As Chromebooks generated interest from the public as well as criticism from tech reviewers, Google worked hard to further develop Chrome OS. Each new release of Chrome OS introduced new features and redesigned the core user interface. The first of these came in 2012 with Chrome OS version 19, known as Aura. This version brought Chrome closer to Windows, making it more like a tabbed browser. It introduced a window manager, overlapping windows, a taskbar and a launcher to access cloud apps. That’s the basis for how we know Chrome OS today.
Like Microsoft with Surface, Google even did something new. It introduced its own Chrome OS device with the Chromebook Pixel. After that, there was a change in the OS in 2016 when Google announced its intention to bring Android Google Play to some Chrome OS devices. Prior to that, in 2013, Google introduced the ability to run Linux apps using the Crouton utility. In 2018, Google announced the ability to run native Linux apps.
As ChromeOS grew in popularity, it became much more than just a Web browser running on top of a device. It was evolving into a full-fledged operating system, similar to MacOS and Windows.
Obviously, Google needed special hardware for it, so in 2018 the company released its own Chrome OS device, the Google Pixelbook. It was followed by the Pixel Slate as well as the Pixelbook Go.
To combine hardware and software, Google added touch-friendly features, tablet mode, and more to Chrome OS, bringing it to the level we’re at today. In late 2019, the company even brought Google Assistant to Chromebooks, opening up Google’s artificial intelligence capabilities to all Chrome OS devices.
But what about Windows? Google worked with its partners at Parallels to develop Windows apps for some Chromebooks, even offline. What a journey!
Struggling with Windows and macOS
Google has had a lot of success with Chrome OS in 10 years. According to a report by International Data Corporation, Chromebooks account for more than 26% of all computer sales in the U.S. Another study found that Chromebooks are the second most popular user OS, ahead of macOS and behind only Windows.
Much of this is due to the pandemic and availability of Chromebooks, but there’s no doubt that Chrome OS and Chromebooks will eventually come out on top. Microsoft even tried to mimic Chrome OS with a lightweight web-based platform known as Windows 10X, but the project was shut down. And Google is even learning from Microsoft and Apple. Google has introduced features such as Phone Hub, which is designed to bring your Android phone closer to your Chromebook.
There are even rumors that Google may separate Chrome from Chrome OS, making the OS its own entity. Undoubtedly, Chrome OS is growing, and there are new prospects for it in the next 10 years.