...but What About the Other Web Browsers?

We don't know much about the upcoming OS from Google, Chrome OS, so most of the news we read about it involves speculation or, sometimes, rather terrible attempts at faking some supposedly official screenshots. However, we recently stumbled on a tidbit of actual news that proves how tightly integrated the Google Chrome web browser will be with the operating system. Of course that makes sense - it is called "Chrome OS" - but it makes us wonder if Google will be required to support other web browsers on their new platform? After all, it's one thing to integrate your own browser with your OS (as Microsoft does with IE) but it's another thing to not even offer a choice. What will Google do? Will they go the "evil" route?

Blogger Lee Mathews of Download Squad recently found a reference to Chrome OS in the source code of Chromium, the open source project that serves as the testing grounds for Google's Chrome web browser. In the code, a line references something being called the "Chrome OS login manager." Essentially, this login manager will function as a single sign-on (SSO) cookie which will simultaneously log you into all Google services including things like Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Reader, etc.

That's as much as we know for sure, but what is not clear is exactly how this SSO option will be presented to the user. We wouldn't be a bit surprised to see you logging into your computer with your Google account the way you log into your Mac or Windows PC using a set of credentials you create during the setup process. However, in Google's case, it's easy to imagine a more web service like prompt on the login screen. For example: "Create a Google account" / "Already have a Google account? Sign in here." Perhaps there will even be a "Remember Me" option so you don't have to log in again, you just flip the netbook's lid open. Of course that's all speculation, but it seems logical.

Will Chrome OS Offer Browser Choice?

The real question here is whether this SSO option will only work with the Chrome web browser which comes pre-installed on the new OS. Obviously, Chrome OS will push people to use Google's own browser, but will it be your only option? What if you really want to use Firefox because you've discovered you can't live without your add-ons and Greasemonkey scripts? Will Chrome OS's sign-in manager support that alternative? Will it - gasp - support IE8? What about Opera? Safari?

Microsoft has come under fire for "bundling" their web browser, Internet Explorer, with their operating system. In fact, the issue has led to the European Union's requiring that the company offer a "select your web browser" ballot screen in the Microsoft's new OS, Windows 7, due out this October. It would seem odd if Google could get away with not just bundling, but actually not even allowing another browser to install.

Although Google hasn't come out and said that will be the case, they've made no mention of how browser alternatives will be handled. In fact, when describing how their OS works, Sudar Pichai, VP Product Management and Linus Upson, Engineering Director, wrote: "the software architecture is simple -- Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel." (In this case, "Google Chrome" refers to the web browser, not the OS. Oh, how we wish they had named them differently!)

What that means is that the very architecture of the OS depends on tight Chrome browser integration. While this is a revolutionary concept for building the OS of the future, to say the least, it begs the question: will Google get away with this? And finally, should they be allowed to?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

Image credit: Lee Mathews