This week Google announced that they are working on a new open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks – Google Chrome OS. That’s right. It’s a Google Chrome browser running on top of Linux kernel. Netbooks running Google Chrome OS should be available in the second half of 2010. (BTW, will European Union rule Google exclude Google Chrome browser from the default installation of a Google Chrome OS? )
They are going to completely redesign the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. As far as I understand the concept, everything should be stored and executed on the web, so traditional malware won’t work on such a OS. On the other hand, I envision criminals somehow make Chrome users subscribe to their malicious web services.
Another interesting project is the Microsoft’s Gazelle browser. This is a web browser that uses OS principles to isolate web application from each other and from the underlying host operating system. Effectively this browser is an OS itself (with it’s own kernel and resources) running on top of the real operating system. This architecture ensures that any misbehaving code (script, virus, buggy plug-in) affects only it’s own process, leaving other web applications, the browser kernel, and the host system intact. Malware can’t jailbreak and infect your computer. It’s like Vegas (what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas). They definitely should have called this browser Vegas.
Anyway, it’s only a proof-of-concept research project and it may take years before something like this will be publicly available.
These new projects (operating system as a web browser from Google, and web browser as an operating system from Microsoft) can make a revolution in computer security. Traditional desktop malware will become obsolete. It will be replaced by a new generation of web based malware. Many antivirus companies may go out of business.
You don’t have to wait another year to try this sort of secure web browsing. Something similar has been available for years. I’m talking about virtual machines. For example when I’m working in Windows XP, I I have a Linux guest operating system running in a window specifically to browse the web. Linux is less prone to malware attacks and it is isolated from my Windows. For me, it’s a combination of Google Chrome OS and Microsoft Gazelle. In this guest OS, where Firefox runs on top of a Linux kernel, “most of the user experience takes place on the web” and on the other hand my web browser is works in a stand-alone operating system, isolated from the host OS.