Blog Post

Google’s Chrome OS: What to Expect at Launch

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Tomorrow, Google (s goog) is holding a Chrome event, where it’s likely we’ll see the official launch of the first Google Chrome OS device, and a supporting web app store. Chrome OS was first introduced as a browser-based platform for netbooks in November of 2009, with a target launch by the end of 2010. The mobile market has changed much since then, but Google seems unwavering in its plans to tackle the computer market with an operating system of its own.

Google isn’t blind to the current situation though: it knows that tablets, handsets and smartphones are hotter now than netbooks were when Chrome OS was announced. More than 340 million mobile phones were sold globally in just the third quarter of this year, for example. Compare that to Gartner’s recent estimate of 352.4 million computers sold around the globe in all of 2010, and it’s not surprising that potential demand for a small Chrome OS computer, or any netbook, for that matter, is lower now than it was a year ago.  As a result, I suspect we’ll hear that Google has been using Chrome OS devices in-house and that Chrome OS consumer devices may launch early next year from a number of hardware partners. Here’s a recap of what to expect from these devices:

  • A netbook without Windows (s msft) — You won’t find Microsoft Windows on a Chrome OS computer. Instead, it’s a Linux kernel under the hood with a customized version of Google’s Chrome browser as the entire interface.
  • Google Apps at the core — Google’s web-based applications are prominent throughout, even at the time of sign-in, which requires a Google account. Docs, Calendar, Gmail, Search, Google Talk and more are all integrated into the platform.
  • Web App Store — Likely to launch with Chrome OS devices is an online store for web apps, so you can add third-party software based on web standards such as HTML5 and JavaScript.
  • A mobile processor —  Just like the majority of netbooks available on the market today, Chrome OS computers can run on Intel’s Atom (s intc) chipset, although they can also run on low-p0wered chips built from the ARM (s armh) architecture, currently used in many smartphones and tablets.
  • No hard drive — In lieu of a spinning hard drive, Google is looking to use solid state disks, or flash memory for all local storage, much like Apple’s new Mac Book Air (s aapl). That configuration, combined with a light operating system should allow for Chrome OS to boot in roughly five seconds or less.
  • Connectivity will be key — While I expect some offline functionality in Chrome OS, the device’s primary use case is being connected, most likely to a Wi-Fi network, although support for mobile broadband is a safe bet for future iterations.

Since Google set the stage for Chrome OS more than a year ago, it may actually be more interesting tomorrow to hear about the target audience for the devices. With more alternatives to netbooks today than at this time last year — including a solid smartphone and tablet platform in Android, which just improved with the release of its Gingerbread version today — Chrome OS could be aimed less at consumers (at least initially) and more towards the mobile enterprise.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub. req.):

12 Responses to “Google’s Chrome OS: What to Expect at Launch”

  1. We are seeing a new development on PC computing with the introduction of Chrome OS and its web store. New PC will only be needing a Chrome OS to connect to the internet and buy their software as apps on at the web store. I hope this translates to lower software prices.

  2. Pratick: Couldn’t agree more with you. I have been using Linux for 11 years now and have never felt the need for Windows except one application. If I get long battery life (6+ hrs) for $300, I don’t see why I won’t have Chrome OS.

  3. Patrick Perez

    What I think would help make the Chrome netbook succeed are a few features tied in to the idea of ‘wireless’.
    1) Long battery life meaning an ARM core processor
    2) Wireless charging. Include a plate to rest the netbook on
    3) Links to GoogleTV via ad hoc wifi networking
    4) Long battery life (its doubly important)

    Personally, I find the clamshell form factor superior to slate for highly mobile computing. I find the ~1LB penalty a modern netbook carries over the iPad to be worth it. The clamshell opens the door to far more software when running Windows, and if it were running Chrome, apps that are developed for Chrome would have an easy time being ported to other platforms, being HTML 5 etc. I think the category has plenty of possibilities. I think the real boogeyman the Chrome netbook faces is from Jolicloud, not the iPad.

    Frankly, if I’m to live on the web, I just don’t need (or want, from a power budget stadpoint) x86 or Windows. Chrome will solve this.


  4. onecallednick

    I find your stats on all cell phones vs all computers highly misleading. Only 89 million of those 340 million phones were smartphones, according to IDC. Tablets are hardly a match for netbook sales,
    Netbooks are still in demand, and a netbook completely free of windows’ bloatware with fast boot times will be popular if priced properly. I’m also crossing my fingers that Netflix support makes it from Google TV!

    • You’re correct that the number of mobile device sales includes regular phones as well as smart phones. My intent wasn’t to mislead, but to stress the growth in handheld devices. Bear in mind that we’re expecting smartphones to outsell computers as early as 2012, as well. And while netbooks are still in demand, that demand has been falling for well over a year, as linked to data in the post.

      Still, I agree that a light OS on a small notebook is appealing – I’ve had a custom build of the Chrome OS installed on a netbook for over a year and it works well for me. I’m just wondering how many consumers will see the Chrome OS devices as a better alternative to a tablet. A year ago, they didn’t have to make that choice. ;)

      • BenHill123

        also to add to the other person’s point, smartphones powered by android and iOS accounted for less for 50 percent of all smartphones. The remaining smartphones(blackberry+Nokia) are not being used much for browsing or using internet-centric apps at all.