Google explains Chrome OS: What it means for netbooks

DFN: I’ve resisted installing Google Chrome, and after this article, I believe I’ll wait a bit longer.

Google explains Chrome OS: What it means for netbooks

Google held a press event this afternoon to talk about the company’s upcoming Google Chrome operating system. Here’s the short version: It’s a light weight OS built to support the Google Chrome web browser. The only apps that you’ll be able to install will be web apps, although Google is working to ensure that Chrome OS can interact with desktop hardware such as video cards and webcams.

Since the OS basically only exists to boot a web browser, the whole thing loads in about 7 seconds on a system with an Intel Atom processor, and you can get online and launch web apps in another 3 seconds.

You can read more about the operating system and see additional screenshots at Download Squad.

But here’s the interesting part for netbook users: Chrome is set to launch initially for netbook-like devices. That means clamshell devices with a full sized keyboard. In fact, Google representatives said that they expect the devices that run Google Chrome OS to be larger than today’s netbooks and to have high resolution displays. They say they expect those netbooks to be in “price ranges people are used to” seeing from netbooks today, which to me means $200 to $400.

As an interesting side note, Google showed a demo of Chrome OS running on a netbook. When asked, a Google rep said that it was an Eee PC. It wasn’t. As you can see from the image below, it’s clearly an Acer Aspire One.

What’s really intriguing about all of this is that I’m starting to think that Chrome OS is going to make Google Android look like a good choice for netbooks. While Android was designed for cellphones, not notebooks, the operating system can run native applications and works whether you’re online or off. ChromeOS won’t be able to run Google Android apps, or any apps that aren’t available on the web.

That’s the same model Steve Jobs promised for the iPhone when it was first introduced, but Apple eventually opened up the iPhone to third party development for native applications. Google says the difference is that notebooks with Intel Atom or more powerful ARM-based processors are better suited to surfing the full web and handling powerful web apps than the iPhone ever was. So while Apple designed its built-in apps for the iPhone to run natively, the only native app that will run on Chrome OS is the Chrome web browser.

Finally, here’s a little video Google put together trying to explain exactly what Google Chrome OS is:

It’s not a good sign that they need to spend 3 minutes explaining what a new operating system is, is it? What do you think? Is the lack of local storage and native apps a feature? Or is it a a disadvantage?

One attendee asked whether Google would try to position Chrome OS as an instant-on OS that could be a companion to Windows or another operating system. In other words, it would function like Splashtop or HyperSpace, giving users a choice of loading a limited, fast-boot OS or a full version of Windows when they hit the power button. The Google reps kind of skirted around that question, but I could definitely see Chrome OS making a lot more sense as a companion OS rather than a standalone operating system.

On the other hand, Google, and many others, see netbooks as companion devices. The idea is that you don’t expect a netbook to be your primary computer, and you might not expect Chrome OS to be your primary operating system. Instead, it’s the OS you use when you’re interacting with web apps from your netbook. And in that case, it doesn’t necessarily have to do everything that a desktop OS does or even be all that useful when you can’t get online.


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