Google Gives A Sneak Preview Of Its Chrome OS; Microsoft Reacts

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) isn’t launching its Google Chrome operating system quite yet — but it is ready to talk about it. During an event Thursday, VP of product management Sundar Pichai said the operating system was a year away from launch but said the company had “made tons of progress” on what will certainly be its biggest assault on Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) yet. He also said Google was open sourcing the entire project — so that both Google developers and outside developers will be able to work on the operating system at the same time.

Pichai laid out three principles for the operating system. He said it would be fast (“From the time you push boot it should be like a TV,” he said). It also promises to be simple (There will only be web applications on the operating system). And he promised it would be secure (Something that will be crucial considering it is so web centric).

He then showed off a demo of the operating system for the first time. Some first impressions: Chrome OS looks almost exactly like the Chrome browser, with different tabs which correspond to different web apps, like Gmail or even an online version of Office. However, there’s a new app menu in the top corner of the main window, which lets users quickly select and go to different web apps (See screenshot above). New panels can also pop up on top of open tabs, corresponding to different functions like a simple notetaking function.

It all seems very claustrophobic to me — and why not just use Internet Explorer or even the Chrome browser itself to access those apps? But Pichai said the user interface could ultimately change.

I also think it may be coming out too soon. Google wants you to believe that everybody is using their computers mostly to access the web — but that’s not actually the case — at least yet. And, indeed, in a question and answer session, Pichai said that most people who purchased computers with Chrome OS installed would also have second computers in their homes. “If you’re a lawyer editing contracts back and forth, this is not the machine for you,” Pichai said.

Google is targeting a release of the operating system by the end of next year — to get it out ahead of the holiday season. That also means it won’t be competing with the novelty of Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system, which will by then have been on the market for more than a year. At first, it will only work with some new netbooks, although Pichai said Google would later work to get it out on full fledged laptops and desktop computers too.

Here’s Microsoft’s statement on its new competition: “From what was shared, it appears to be in the early stages of development. From our perspective, however, our customers are already voicing their approval of the way Windows 7 just works – across the Web and on the desktop, and on all sizes and types of PCs – purchasing twice as many units of Windows 7 as we’ve sold of any other operating system over a comparable time.”

And here’s what Chrome OS looks like: