Productivity

First Glimpse At Google Chrome OS

Google offered up everything but a finished Chrome OS today, releasing its source code and explaining how it’s different from other operating systems. Here are the features, functions and screenshots you’ll want to know about.

Want the short version, sketched out on a notepad, uploaded as a video and narrated with a carefree tenor? Here’s Google’s explanation:

Want the much more in-depth, screenshot-by-screenshot rundown of what was (not really) revealed? Check out Gizmodo’s live-blogged announcement.

When, on what and how much?

Google released Chrome OS’ source code today, but one of Chrome’s lead engineers, Idan Avraham, said a finished Chrome OS arrives “about a year from today”. They took pains to note that Google itself won’t be offering Chrome OS as a download to install on any system you have. They’re developing Chrome OS for machines with “specific reference hardware”, as their machines will boot directly from those machines and skip a lot of the hardware checking steps that standard operating systems run through.

The developers didn’t offer pricing hints or targets from hardware partners. They did say, however, that they intend to “push” manufacturers to release netbooks with larger keyboards and mousepads, and crisper resolutions, and devices will be released “in the price ranges people see today”.

How fast is it?

From a single boot-up shown on a livecast, and some live demonstration, pretty darned fast. The lead developer cited a seven-second boot-up to a universal sign-on screen on an eeePC, and then to the desktop after another four seconds. It does this by working on specialised firmware, written for hardware Chrome OS’ developers work with, and relying on a Google Chrome browser written specifically for the Chrome OS. It’s also written exclusively to run on solid-state or non-hard-disk drives, with a minimal amount of locally-stored data.

What makes it different?

For you, the user, nothing entirely whole-cloth new. But a whole lot of interesting bits:

  • Utilising multi-core CPUs and graphics chips for Chrome: Your web browsing, video playing and other activities inside Chrome OS’ main browser will get a boost from hardware normally reserved for gaming and traditional applications.
  • Chrome (browser) on Chrome (OS) will be faster: Faster than how it runs on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer, anyways, because it’s been re-tool for this OS.
  • There are no “traditional” applications: “Every application,” according to Chrome’s project head, “is a web application. There are no conventional applications. (Whatever you use), it’s a webapp, it’s a link, it’s a URL.”
  • Anyone can log in and use any Chrome OS netbook: Since Chrome OS will presumably be tied to your Google account, you could easily jump on a friend’s netbook and log in for your own email, documents and other stuff.
  • Everything you use is online: You probably guessed that — Gmail, Google Docs, Calendar and other apps have had offline abilities for some time. But even the small notepad application in Chrome and your particular Wi-Fi and system settings are backed up to your Google account as well. You’ll be able to store data offline using HTML 5‘s capabilities — but then, you can do that with Firefox or Safari as well.

So, it’s a Google OS for people obsessed with Google?

Not exactly. Avraham demonstrated the OS’ ability to assign specific web apps to different files and links by clicking an .xls (Microsoft Excel) file, which then opened in Microsoft’s online Office suite.

Will it ever arrive on laptops or desktops?

Eventually, assuming it gains any foothold in the market. Chrome’s developers said their primary focus for the year, and the immediate future, would be netbooks, and that laptops and desktop releases would follow, without offering any specific time frame.

Will it print?

Oh, right — Avraham said “you will be able to print”, but said the OS would take a “more innovative approach” to supporting printers. More to come.

So, how does Google Chrome OS strike you? Is it something you’d want on a netbook, or were you expecting something more? Share what you saw, and see coming, in the comments.


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