Virtualisation and the Chances of a Google Chrome (Virtual) App(liance) Store

If nothing else, 2010 should see the launch of Google Chrome OS, a PC operating system to rival Linux and, if the Googlers have their way, Microsoft Windows and Mac OS/X.

Part of the unique proposition of Chrome OS is the notion that applications will run on the web, rather than on the desktop. This doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to run when you’re offline though – several of Google’s current “web” applications, such as Google Docs and GMail already support an offline mode using a browser extension called Google gears. (Note that Gears looks set to be deprecated in favour of native HTML 5).

Google is also gearing up (doh!) to offer cloud based storage through Google docs (upload any file to Google docs), so you’ll be able to use that as a backup for your files (letting Picasa take care of the photos, and Youtube the videos, if you want to let Google play the “all your files are belong to us” game). NB it occurs to me that Google doesn’t yet have a movie or audio editing product…? (The Youtube Remixer that appeared in 2007 was quickly dropped.) One to watch there on the acquisition trail, methinks…? (Why didn’t they take Jumpcut off Yahoo’s hands, I wonder?)

One thing that I don’t understand is the implication that, if Chrome O/S won’t run desktop apps, will it limit its appeal? As ZDNet put it: Google’s Chrome OS: Will you give up desktop apps?

I have to admit that when Chrome O/S was originally announced, one of my first thoughts was that they would offer an in-built virtualisation manager. Virtualisation allows you to create a sandbox that is isolated from your current operating system into which you can drop another operating system and its attendant applications).

So for example, VMWare, Parallels, Virtualbox all offer the ability to install one or more isolated containers on your own desktop within which you can install and run additional operating systems at the same time. So for example, I could run Windows and Linux within separate containers on my Mac desktop.

If Chrome OS had in-built virtualisation support, users could download and install their own virtual appliances (preconfigured operating system+application stacks bundles) in order to run desktop applications.

Although there are a few virtual appliance download sites already out there, it seems to me as if they’d a natural, if heavyweight, opportunity to provide an app store (i.e. a virtual appliance store)?

But Google doesn’t seem to be doing that. That said, Chrome OS will apparently support the ability to write applications in native code (i.e. programmes that can be compiled to run against the computer’s processor rather than on top of Javascript or Flash virtual machines) – Google Chrome OS goes native (code). This is apparently being done for performance reasons; but I can’t quite get my head round the extent to which this differs from a traditional desktop app model? Maybe the idea is that web applications can actually download and install native code plugins that run a tiny sandbox (“virtual plugins/libraries” as opposed to virtual appliances?)

(If truth be told, I’m getting a little out of my depth here… my relevant knowledge is about 20 years out of date;-)

PS In a move I don’t understand, and that prompted this post, virtualisation company VMWare today announced it had bought Zimbra, providers of online email and collaboration apps (In Acquiring Zimbra, VMware Moves Squarely Toward Apps and Collaboration). WTF is going on?

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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