Google Chrome OS will not support hard-disk drives

Google says SSDs will lead to a fast boot time

Google Inc. said today that the upcoming release of its new Google Chrome operating system will not support products with hard disk drives in favor of those with solid state drives (SSD).

Google's vice president of product management, Sundar Pichai, made the statement during a press event to announce features of its first operating system.

Pichai said the new OS will support only SSDs because that is key to it getting a seven-second boot time on PCs.

"We want Google Chrome OS to be blazingly fast," Pichai said. "From the time you press boot, you want it to be like a TV. In addition to making the boot time fast, we want the end-to-end experience to be fast."

Jim Handy, an analyst with research firm Objective Analysis in Los Gatos, Calif., said if fast boot times were as important as Google is making them out to be, then Apple would own the PC market.

"Because all of Apple's products boot significantly faster than Windows products," he said. "And the price difference between an Apple product and a PC is not as big as the price difference between a PC with a hard drive and a PC with an equal size SSD."

Handy said SSD acceptance in notebooks is considerably lower than 10%, and that netbooks have largely migrated away from SSDs toward hard disk drives because of the added cost. Google's decision, he said, "is hard to understand."

"This is an aggressive move, an interesting move," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research.

"What's interesting is that you won't be storing everything in the cloud," Gottheil added. "You'll be storing locally, too." Because only data will be stored locally -- Chrome OS's applications will be completely Web-based -- the flash drive won't need to be terribly large, Gottheil said.

Matthew Papakipos, engineering director for the Google Chrome OS, said one of the main reasons other operating systems are slow today is that they spend a lot of time on unnecessary boot steps, including looking for floppy drives. "Does anyone have a floppy drive today?" he said. "That's symptomatic of why operating systems today are so slow."

Papakipos said Google would be focusing on deploying its OS in netbooks only for the first year or so, and then it would consider notebooks and desktop PCs. He would not say which SSD manufacturers are in the running or how much capacity the drives could potentially have. He did, however, say that the SSDs could be considerably smaller than average because Google's applications will reside in the cloud.

"Our operating system's size on a disk is 60 times smaller than Windows 7," he said.

Google is looking at producing products with NAND flash memory drives based on several form factors, which could include eSATA and placing flash memory chips directly on a system's motherboard, instead of a hard disk drive form factor as most SSD are today.

"Speed is a big focus for us here. What we're going for here is that it feels more like a television than a computer. We want you to just punch the on button and it immediately comes on. You log in and you're on the Web," he said.

Handy said it's unlikely that Google could exclude its OS from operating on hard disk drives. What's more likely is that the software would use a timing mechanism, and that anything that takes more than 10 seconds, for example, to boot would prompt an error message.

"I suspect it will work just fine with hard drives and if not, there will be people who will say, 'just use this patch' and it'll work with hard drives," he said.

Handy also pointed out what he called a "great irony."

"The Google search engine is designed to use the cheapest hardware possible and just do everything in massive parallelism to make up for the fact that they're not using fast hardware," he said. "So Google does not use fast hard drives and they don't use solid state drives."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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