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Google Chrome OS: What You Need to Know

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Google (s goog) launched its Chrome OS platform at a press event in San Francisco today. The product, which should be commercially available in about six months, was first introduced as a concept in July of 2009. The computing interface is entirely web-based and runs atop Linux, and Google promises the platform to be far more efficient and lightweight than is currently available on computers.

In tandem with the new operating system, which will be available on consumer netbooks from Acer and Samsung in mid-2011, Google also launched an application store for web apps, revealed news of a Verizon (s vz) mobile broadband partnership that will provide access to Chrome OS devices, and gave an update on the progress of the Chrome browser. We’ll have a deeper dive into what this all means shortly, but for now, here are a summary and some brief thoughts on Google’s Chrome presentation.

Chrome Browser

Since the 2008 launch, Google’s browser has ramped up to serve over 120 million users worldwide, with a lot of the traction coming from emerging markets, where one in three consumers is choosing to use Chrome. Google’s V8 JavaScript engine is now 50 times faster than Internet Explorer (s msft) was just two years ago, but it’s about to get even faster. Google is adding new adaptive compiling technology called “Crankshaft” to nearly double speeds in certain cases.

The new integrated PDF (s adbe) reader is securely sandboxed and near-instant. In a demo, Google grabbed a 1,990-page healthcare bill, and it was fully available to read in the blink of an eye. Chrome is also gaining support for graphical hardware acceleration: visual demonstrations of 1,000 fish in an aquarium and a 3-D representation of the human body that could be viewed from any angle performed as if they were inside a native app on high-powered computers.

Chrome Web Store

The Chrome web store is launching in U.S. with 500 applications, and will follow in other countries next year. Google says the store is all about getting users connected with developers and for finding good apps. Four demonstration applications looked native but were built with HTML5, CSS3 and advanced JavaScript programming — and you’d never know it. The New York Times, a game called Poppit, and both Amazon’s (s amzn) Windows Shop and Kindle for the Web impressed.

Developers have multiple options for monetization through the store: a flat fee per app, monthly subscriptions, or free trials, with the length of the trial up to the developer.

Chrome OS

Google has made much progress on its Chrome OS effort, but isn’t ready to launch a stable device due to open bugs and unfinished items such as cloud print, support for different webcams and more. So, consumers won’t be able to get a Chrome OS device until they arrive from Acer and Samsung around the middle of 2011. Until then, Google is opening up a consumer pilot program through various channels, the most prominent one being a questionnaire on the Chrome website: if chosen by Google, the company will send you a test netbook for free with the Chrome OS platform.

This device, dubbed CR-48, is a basic, non-branded device but similar to currently available netbooks: 12.1-inch display; Intel (s intc) Atom CPU; built-in, dual-band Wi-Fi; and, through a partnership with Verizon Wireless (s vz), an integrated world-mode 3G modem. Google says every Chrome OS netbook will come with free data service for two years through Verizon, up to 100 MB per month. After that, consumers can add data, with no contract, starting at $9.99 for a fixed time or amount.

Businesses, too, are on board with Chrome OS; Google mentioned several including Kraft (s kft), Logitech (s logi), and American Airlines (s amr), to name a few. The U.S. Department of Defense is participating as well, indicating how safe and secure it perceives the Chrome OS to be.

Few new features were announced for Chrome OS devices, so most of the functionality originally shown off last year was in the spotlight today: offline use, security and sandboxing, and speedy access to the web. Google’s Chrome Sync will make it easy for new Chrome OS devices to be set up, however: from sign-in to start-up is less than minute for an out-of-the-box device. The Chrome OS netbooks will boot and wake instantly, making for a quick, seamless web experience.

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21 Responses to “Google Chrome OS: What You Need to Know”

  1. Is it the beginning of the end for anti-virus software companies?

    In a world where everyone is using the cloud and don’t need to install any native applications or access I/O and hardware layers, this could be it.

    Obviously there will be other threats on the web in your browser and different devices ( smartphones, ipads, netbooks, etc), but still it’s pretty exciting to think of a future without viruses.

  2. biggest question i have that i didnt see answered was, an ARM-based version would be able to enter a low power “active standby” state that would allow you to still receive notifications/alerts/alarms. but since this is x86, can it do the same? when it is waking up “instantly” is that just coming out of standby? if thats all it is, that means you wont get any alerts.

    i remember last year when Kevin guaranteed us ChromeBooks would be ARM & not x86, what happened?!?!

    netbook sales arent declining, do you commenter do any research or just read sensationalistic headlines? growth is slowing, but not declining. ChromeBooks are much more likely to compete with netbooks than tablets ever will, ChromeBooks & netbooks are actual productivity devices that can handle the full web & mass input, neither of which tablets can (let me see you code on an iPad). tablets are purely consumption & social devices.

  3. Will White

    Save some large retail POS applications like shipping and air travel (which is a huge market), I just don’t see it. And I’m not clear on the marketing of these with mobile carriers … get a netbook, notebook or a tablet and you’re guaranteed a better user experience for the foreseeable future.

    But beware the app store … chrome is a great and fast browser and I can see a lot of value in a chrome app store that act as a launch pad for user discovery of google integrated pay to play and pay to use websites that can be used anywhere … like your netbook, notebook or tablet.

  4. I see very little different in this offering than what is provided before.
    Style – it loses to high-end subnotebooks
    Speed – it is faster than netbooks for browsing, but I’d have to see a big difference to make it noteworthy. I have instant-on with a macbook air.
    Functionality – it is a browser on a netbook, but can’t do much else.
    Data – this is interesting, but seems a bit gimmicky (100MB is not much data).

    What this means is that if the price is right, this will consume the rest of the netbook market, and will hit WinTel right in the hull (with Apple taking the high-margin perch).

    It’s all about the price… who is the target market?

  5. g00ber PyLe

    Unless they have some must-have killer app that you cannot get anywhere else this thing will quickly join the web scrap heap that is covering the now very large boneyard filled with vast array of failed tech software.
    I suspect the iPad will trounce and pounce on this puppy and exploit all its weaknesses with the upcoming iPad 2 and 3. Remember that the iPad is already solely responsible for the declining sales of current netbooks, so a ChromeOS netbook looks dubious, however a ChromeOS tablet might peek the interest of a few uber geeky developers.
    Certainly the mighty iPad with its Unix-based core can do anything that a Linux (aka illegitimate Son Of Unix) gadget can do better.
    Steve should sleep well for the next 6 months on his $55 billion of ca$h in his mattress and pillows knowing that their is absolutely no near term threat from this mutant beast of an OS.

  6. It is interesting that in his remarks at the Google announcement, Eric Schmidt referred to the Network Computer (NC) from 1995 as the starting point for Chrome OS. Eric was the CTO of Sun in the mid-nineties, and part of the alliance that was promoting the Network Computer (NC) as a device to replace the PC Desktop even in 1995. The NC failed in 1999 – but the internet in 2010 along with innovations in browser technology has made it possible for the NC to be reborn as the Chrome OS. Eric Schmidt referred to the long road from the Network Computer to Chrome OS – pretty much echoing my overview of this journey

  7. The Chrome OS is the realization of a vision held for a long time by many including Eric Schmidt – since he was the CTO of Sun in the mid-nineties, and part of the alliance that promoted the Network Computer (NC) as a device to replace the PC Desktop in 1995. The NC failed in 1999 – but the internet in 2010 along with innovations in browser technology has made it possible for the NC to be reborn as the Chrome Notebook. Eric Schmidt himself referred to the Network Computer as a starting point – pretty much echoing my overview of this journey

  8. Not to be a nay-sayer, but really, mid-2011? Six months is a long time, especially with netbook sales projected to begin their decline. Not sure Chrome OS is what most people would consider a suitable OS on a more powerful device like a $500 laptop. A cloud-type OS is nice in theory, but I’m not sure the general public is ready for it in a netbook form factor now that tablets are all the rage. Personally I don’t have a need for it, but I guess we’ll see what the rest of the consumers have to say.

    • Travis, I don’t think you’re alone with the concern of time. But after hearing what Google had to say, this seems less about netbooks and more about the future vision of what computing will be like. Not sure if that’s going to help move devices when they arrive, but it’s something to consider.

      And I’m really curious as to how much these devices will cost – Google said that hardware partners would have their own launch events and announce pricing when they’re ready. Verizon may be subsidizing some costs because they’ll get data revenues on such a device: that free 100 MB per month will go fast! :)

      • Cloud OS has to start some where. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, that is if users are ready to move their OS/apps to the Internet.

        I’ll probably be proven wrong, but this seems kind of like a non-event event. Not a lot of new info and nothing that really makes you (or at least me) jump out of your seat and say “wow, I need that”. My fear is that this along with the recent Google TV initiative represents a slowdown in Google innovation. They don’t seem to be stirring the pot in the same way they did with Google Maps, gMail or even Google Voice. Maybe the innovation will come slowly as people begin to see the value and adopt the latest and greatest from the Google brand.