Android, Chrome OS differ over voice communications

Google makes it clear it wants to keep both operating systems and let the market decide

As soon as Google Inc. announced it was working on the new Chrome operating system, questions arose over how the new OS will differ from the Android mobile OS, and whether it might spell the end of Android.

"People right away started wondering a bit frantically what's the Chrome OS mean for Android, but it's going to be OK," said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at research firm IDC, in an interview.

Google has made clear it won't boot aside Android by creating the Chrome OS, noting in its blog that there will be a place for both.

Android, which runs on the G1 phone from T-Mobile USA, "was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to netbooks," Google said. Meanwhile, the Chrome OS is "being created for people who spend most of their time on the web and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems."

Google said there are areas where the two overlap, but added, "we believe choice will drive innovation for the benefit of everyone, including Google."

The most obvious distinction made in Google's blog is that Android will be left to power smartphones and small handhelds and won't be powering desktop systems.

"That seems to be a good segmentation in terms of the devices the OSes run on," Llamas added. "Expectations for mobile phones are very different from desktops and something else."

Llamas likened the distinction between the two as somewhat akin to the difference between Windows XP or Vista for a PC, and Windows Mobile, which runs on many different mobile phones.

The similarities between Android and the Chrome OS are less clear, and "in coming months, we'll get more clarity around that," Llamas said.

Both Android and the Chrome OS are based on the Linux kernel. Google described the Chrome OS architecture as the Chrome browser running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel, making the Web the primary development platform.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said he sees Google as creating the Chrome OS as an ideal way to take advantage of its cloud computing master plan. "If you think of a Web browser like Chrome in the new world of the Web, the browser really is the OS," Gold said.

But Chrome needs to be based on something, in this case Linux, in order to run various low-level drivers in a desktop machine or other device, Gold said. He said he expects that for the new Chrome OS, Google will borrow some code from Android beyond the Linux kernel, such as drivers that were created for the mobile platform.

"Chrome OS is not Android to the next degree. They want to keep Android pure, with stuff specific to smartphone devices," Gold said. Specifically, Android has the capability to control what is known as the "talk channel" for conventional wireless voice communications.

Chrome OS, then, will probably not be focused on voice communications, except through voice over IP, Gold said. "In that sense, the task for Chrome OS is a lot easier," he said. "The protocols to make a cell phone run [voice] are extensive, including the handshaking and handholding with a cell tower," Gold said.

But for developers and designers of larger devices such as netbooks, modems can be installed that have been purchased from third parties to take care of the cellular interface. By contrast, the smartphone OS has to do the work of the modem, partly because it has to be kept smaller.

Essentially, the Chrome OS would force most of the processing a user needs to be done in the cloud and not in the device, somewhat similar to the way a Windows-based terminal has forced processing on back-end servers, Gold said. "That's why it's attractive to Google," he said.

Android alone would not have that capability, he said.

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