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Brin: Google's OSes likely to converge

Puzzled onlookers have wondered why Google is overseeing two separate operating-system projects. Co-founder Sergey Brin thinks that at some point the two will become one.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin
Stephen Shankland/CNET

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Google's dual-pronged operating-system strategy will likely produce a single OS down the road, according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

Many Google observers were puzzled when the company announced plans for Chrome OS in July, coming amid growing acceptance of the company's Android operating-system project as a smartphone and Netbook OS. After all, why design an open-source operating system with the goal of reinventing the personal computing experience when you're currently developing another open-source operating system with the goal of reinventing the mobile computing experience?

Google executives, including CEO Eric Schmidt, have downplayed the conflict ever since, asking for time to let the projects evolve. And a few days after Chrome OS was revealed, Android chief Andy Rubin said device makers "need different technology for different products," explaining that Android has a lot of unique code that makes it suitable for use in a phone and Chrome has unique benefits of its own.

But Brin, speaking informally to reporters after the company's Chrome OS presentation on Thursday, said "Android and Chrome will likely converge over time," citing among other things the common Linux and Webkit code base present in both projects.

It's not clear when Google thinks it might want to merge the projects, but it seems to be eyeing a future in which the smartphones currently served by Android meld into the Netbooks Google has in mind for Chrome OS. Of course, Brin's vision might not necessarily be shared by all members of the Google management team.

"As Sundar [Pichai, Google's vice president of product management] said in his presentation, we're reaching a perfect storm of converging trends where computers are behaving more like mobile devices, and phones are behaving more like small computers," Google said in a statement in response to questions about how and when the two projects would merge. "Having two open source operating systems from Google provides both users and device manufacturers with more choice and helps contribute a wealth of new code to the open source community."

Any future combination of Chrome OS and Android could be aimed at a new type of device distinct from Android's smartphones or Chrome OS's Netbooks. Screenshot by Josh Lowensohn/CNET

This also allows Google to pick and choose the best ideas to emerge from each project, setting up a bit of friendly internal competition to develop new operating-system technologies. The main difference is that while Android is a shipping product, Chrome OS is still very much in the research stage, with devices not expected until late 2010.

It's way too early to know how that pending convergence will affect development for the different operating systems, as it seems pretty clear Google is spending most of its time at the moment building out each one separately.

But Brin--no idle bystander--believes at some point, Google will emerge with one next-generation operating system.