Rumors of a "Google Operating System" have been around for a few years now, fueled by Google's expansion into e-mail, analytics, desktop search, Web applications, pizza delivery...well, maybe not that.
Today, Google has made a significant step toward becoming a Web-based operating system by launching a beta version of the open-source Google Chrome browser, which has been optimized to run Web applications rather than simply rendering HTML on a page.
"All of us at Google spend much of our time working inside a browser. We search, chat, email and collaborate in a browser. And in our spare time, we shop, bank, read news and keep in touch with friends -- all using a browser. Because we spend so much time online, we began seriously thinking about what kind of browser could exist if we started from scratch and built on the best elements out there. We realized that the web had evolved from mainly simple text pages to rich, interactive applications and that we needed to completely rethink the browser. What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for web pages and applications, and that's what we set out to build."
The browser includes its own URL box, which Google is calling the "Omnibox." It incorporates features from Google Suggest, browser history and search history.
As with the Google Toolbar before it, Chrome will also present an opportunity for Google to collect more user behavioral data. On the plus side, that could help Google develop better Web analytics applications. More cynically, Google can also take this mountain of user data and use it to better monetize its ad platforms.
While this move can be seen as a challenge to Microsoft on the browser front, it's more of a threat to Microsoft's Windows operating system. By developing its own open-source browser, Google is able to establish de-facto standards for Web applications.
Combined with Google Gears coming at Web applications from the developer side, and there's not much use for a desktop operating system any more.