Google Chrome OS vs. Chromium OS: Understanding the difference

Before buying Google Chromebooks, learn the difference between Chrome and Chromium -- the free HTML5 browsers and OSes you can use to check out desktop virtualization clients.

With all the buzz about HTML5 clients running on Google's new Chrome OS-based laptop, Chromebook, I was excited to get my hands on one. Last week, I wrote a review on the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook, and in the article I kept using the word Chromium incorrectly as a name for the OS running on the Chromebook. Some folks were kind enough to correct me via email rather than post in the comments, so I thought I'd share what I learned.

There are four related names in the Google browser/OS world: Chrome and Chromium -- both of which are Internet browsers -- and Chrome OS and Chromium OS, which are both operating systems. "Chrome" packages (either browsers or OSes) are the commercial implementations of their Chromium counterparts, which are open source.

Chrome and Chromium
Both Chrome and Chromium can be downloaded for free, and each gives you a true HTML5 browser that you can use to check out any of the desktop virtualization clients that are already out there, such as the Ericom AccessNow RDP client and Spark View -- a view engine for Asp.Net Mvc and Castle Project MonoRail frameworks. Citrix has an HTML5 client on the way, too.

Both browsers are fairly similar in functionality, although the Chrome Web Store is only available to Chrome users, not to open source Chromium users. Chromium also lacks a built-in PDF reader and Adobe Flash Player. Both can be added by the user, but since PDFs and Flash are not open source, those readers are not available by default.

Chrome OS and Chromium OS
Chrome OS and Chromium OS, like Chrome and Chromium, are the commercial and open source implementations of the Google operating system. Chrome OS can only be acquired by purchasing a device that runs Chrome OS, while Chromium can be freely downloaded and compiled from source code.

Chromium OS typically lags behind Chrome OS in terms of feature support, but Google does lend some Chrome OS-based technology to Chromium OS on occasion. Google Cloud Print, which allows for printing documents through the cloud as opposed to using a locally attached or networked printer (which neither OS supports), was added to Chromium OS about six months after its addition to Chrome OS.

Bonus Knowledge
One thing I've heard around the community is people referring to their new 'Cr-48.' The Cr-48 is the name of the old, beta-style Chromebooks that were used as test platforms for Chrome OS by Google and some trusted partners. If you hear people referring to their new Cr-48, they either got fleeced on eBay or are referring to their new device by the old name.

Hopefully that helps, and if you've managed to get your hands on a Chromebook, I'd love to hear your feedback on the device. My initial feedback was that it was boring, and, in terms of desktop virtualization, nothing more than a thin client. I've since sweetened a little on the concept after learning how HTML5 clients work, but I still think you can achieve that with an HTML5 browser without the need for a $500 netbook.

Gabe Knuth is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as "the other guy" at BrianMadden.com. He has been in the application delivery space for over 12 years and has seen the industry evolve from the one-trick pony of terminal services to the application and desktop virtualization of today. Gabe's focus tends to lean more toward practical, real-world technology in the industry, essentially boiling off the hype and reducing solutions to their usefulness in today's corporate environments.

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