The Google OS surfaced in March--or did it?

A tantalizing tidbit of data appeared in CNET server logs back in March.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read

A look back at CNET's server logs reveals that someone gave us a quick hint of the Chrome OS back in March, by surfing to a CNET.com site while apparently using a browser running on the still-in-development operating system. On March 4, 2009, an unusual user agent entry was recorded on our servers. The key bits, just to beat this over the head, are in bold:

Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv: Gecko/2009020911 Google OS/ChromeKernel 0.9 (very secret, to be released soon.) Firefox/3.0.6

When browsers request data from Web servers, they send a user agent item that generally includes the name and version of the browser as well as the operating system. This data is used by most Web publishers for statistical purposes. Some sites also use it to deliver different content depending on which browser is being used; sites that have stripped-down smartphone-friendly versions use the user agent string to tell when they should deliver it instead of the full Web experience. It is also common practice for non-mainstream browsers to put "Mozilla" in their user agent strings so they get the standard Firefox version of the Web site.

The above user agent came to our servers in a Web page request referred to CNET.com from Google.fi, the Finnish version Google Search. Our logs tell us it came from a machine in Helsinki, and that the user turned three pages on CNET while looking for product and pricing information on Dell Poweredge servers. Tracking cookie logs tell us the user did not come back again until May 4th.

The user agent string has appeared only sporadically since then in CNET's logs.

We speculate now that the user was a Google employee in Finland, working on the OS, who neglected security briefly.

When we first saw this string, another staffer here at CNET wrote a note, "It smells more like some coder type with a sense of humor than a truly secret project." The same CNET employee noted that Google has monkeyed with user agents before, as reported in a 2008 Internet News story, "Does Google have a secret OS?"

You can see what user agent your browser is reporting at several sites, such as useragent.org. See also: "History of the browser user-agent string."

If you have access to your server logs, I'm sure other CNET readers would be curious to know if you've seen these hints about Google Chrome OS in your records. Leave a note below and share your findings.