Google tests new Chrome OS UI that’s more Android than Windows

Chrome OS logoGoogle-watchers may have already heard about "Project Athena," a Chrome OS-related experiment of Google's that has appeared in the Chromium source code a few times in the past. Today we got our first official look at the new interface via Francois Beaufort, a Chrome enthusiast who was hired by Google last year after leaking several high-profile Chrome features.

The new UI, pictured above, displays a cascading stack of cards, each of which appears to represent an individual browser tab. At the bottom of the screen, an app drawer full of dummy icons and a Search field will allow the user to jump quickly into other applications. The battery indicator and network status are in the upper-right corner of the screen. Putting aside the rough, obviously-a-work-in-progress aesthetic of the interface, it bears a strong resemblance to the new multitasking UI in the Android L release, which shows apps and individual browser tabs as a similar stack of cards.

Google tests new Chrome OS UI that’s more Android than Windows

The current Chrome user interface, codenamed "Aura," hews much closer to Windows 7 than to Android, and it works better with a traditional keyboard and mouse combo than with fingers. The Athena UI looks like a more touch-friendly take on Chrome OS—touchscreens are gradually beginning to show up on Chromebooks like the Pixel and one of Acer's C720 models, but as we pointed out in our Chromebook Pixel review the operating system isn't particularly touch-friendly. It's possible that Google is looking to give touchscreen Chromebooks a boost by developing an interface for them that's easier to use.

There's also that onscreen Chrome OS keyboard that Google has been testing for some time now. Rumor sites and Google enthusiasts seem to think this points to a Chrome OS tablet, though it could just as easily be an accessibility feature; all recent Windows versions have included an onscreen keyboard to aid those who can't or don't want to use the physical keyboard.

The new interface would dovetail nicely with one of the few Chrome OS announcements made at Google I/O, the ability for Chrome OS to run Android applications. We don't know much about what developers will need to do to enable this cross-platform compatibility or when we'll actually see the feature, but given the touch-first nature of Android apps it would make sense for the Chrome OS user interface to become more finger-friendly as well.

Assuming it reaches the stable Chrome OS release, Athena wouldn't be the first major change to the Chrome OS UI. The operating system began life with no user interface aside from a Chrome browser window, and only picked up the Windows 7-inspired Aura theme several versions later. If you'd like to experiment with Athena, you can look at the in-development version by compiling the appropriate Chromium source code.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Android, Chrome OS, Google, OSes

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