Google Chrome OS: What You Need to Know

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Google 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 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 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 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 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 Atom CPU; built-in, dual-band Wi-Fi; and, through a partnership with Verizon Wireless, 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, Logitech, and American Airlines, 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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