Google's Chrome OS promises to shift people's perceptions of what an operating system should be. But while Google is concentrating on the mobile market, third parties are moving ahead with plans to bring the platform to the desktop - starting with the Xi3 ChromiumPC.
Unlike Windows or Mac OS, Chrome OS is based on an open-source project - Chromium OS, a Linux derivative featuring Google code. In order to use Chrome OS, you need a licence from Google - as with a traditional, commercial operating system - but to use Chromium OS you need merely to download the source and compile it for your target system.
While companies like Acer and Samsung have opted for the 'official' route to market, partnering with Google on the launch of a range of 'Chromebook' devices, there's nothing to stop a company from using the open-source route - and that's what Xi3 has done, taking the project in a very different direction to Google's original intentions.
Rather than a portable device, Xi3's ChromiumPC is an ultra-small desktop PC based around the company's 'Modular Computer' concept - a box which houses three modules: the Processor Module, the Primary I/O Module, and the Secondary I/O Module.
Hearkening back to the days when PCs were a series of boards connected via a backbone cable, the Xi3 Modular Computer concept allows its users to easily swap out the capabilities of their system, adding a more powerful processor or different I/O functions simply by swapping the relevant module. It's an interesting approach - and one which has made it easy for the company to add support for Chromium OS.
"The Xi3 Computer Architecture is designed to support any x86-based operating system, including Windows, Linux, Unix, and other open source-based operating systems," claimed Xi3 president Jason Sullivan during his company's announcement. "Although we’ve been promoting, discussing and working on modular computers for some time, we feel the market is now ready for a desktop computer with a cloud-based operating system like the one offered by Google.
"If someone chooses to switch their ChromiumPC to run a different operating system, it’s as easy as swapping out one of the three boards inside the computer," he said - but will users want the cloud-centric Chrome OS on their desktop? Sullivan reckons so: "As technology has advanced and people have become more and more comfortable with using Web-based applications and storing data away from their computer, specifically ‘in the cloud,’ it only makes sense that operating systems will become cloud-based.
"In fact, we expect that over time we’ll see many operating systems that are wire-bound and require the computer to be connected to the Internet to run, and we will likely support these new operating systems as well," he claimed.
The full specifications of the Xi3 ChromiumPC have not yet been disclosed, but it is known that it will run on the user's choice of a single- or dual-core x86 64-bit processor and come in a variety of colours - including the rather fetching but somewhat fingerprint-prone chrome-plated version seen above. Pricing is as-yet unknown, but the release will come some time in the second half of 2011 - following the launch of the Xi3 Modular Computer itself in July.