The Chrome comic pointed out that the browser has gone beyond the web and is now often used for running applications, and therefore that we should adapt the browser to go beyond the web metaphor. The same considerations apply to the OS, coming from the other direction. One example here is files. On the web, references to resources can include some extra state information as part of the URL, e.g. http://www.example.com/mypage&tab=12&encoding=3&secret=banana. You can copy, email, bookmark this URL and use it to return at a later time to the resource in the desired state. You cannot pass extra state as part of a filename. The best you can do is have the application which opens the files store this working state to the file along with the data.
With the Google Chrome announcement over the weekend, it is really clear that Google totally want to own the desktop. The underlying OS will become less and less relevant, and more and more applications will run inside the browser.
I have suspected as much for a while. Here is my comment from a slashdot article 3 years ago:
> Is there a GoogleOS in our future?
Effectively, yes. The internet and associated protocols, data structures etc are becoming more and more important, and the underlying OS less and less important – you can do a lot now (email, edit notes, images etc, dispatch compute jobs etc) with a web browser without caring about the underlying OS.
Web browsers currently are limiting. Many user interface aspects of web browsers suck, therefore so do any applications which rely on the browser for user interface.
But gradually standards are emerging which provide software infrastructure for web applications, e.g. the Google Maps thing. I guess Java is too slow to be the infrastructure, and the standard Java interface libraries are also a but weak for GUIs. Google are producing some of this infrastructure, which might end up as a kind of middleware OS. Some of it might end up in the browser itself; there was a rumor a while ago that Google were writing their own browser – I think that is likely.
To start with, I have zero inside knowledge about this move (just lots of opinions :-), and I would not put too much weight on the article, but I have been thinking along the same lines for a while.
First, the successor to Vista has to be great. Windows 7 is an evolution of NT and I am not sure whether this can provide the necessary edge.
What I would really like to see would be a new Windows, reengineered from the ground up as a modern, microkernel operating system. The Unix concept seems to me to represent the minimum operating system which is mature, powerful, and well-engineered enough to be a robust foundation for general purpose computation. There has been a lot of operating systems research in the last 40 years which surely can be used to build something much better than Unix. With the widescale adoption of virtual machine technology, it should be perfectly possible to run Windows NT type (XP, Vista) applications inside a virtual machine in a completely new operating system.