Google Chrome OS – What is it for and is it any good?

Brief Overview – What is Google Chrome OS (by Google)

I have just finished watching The 1hr20min video from Google Releasing the Chromium OS open source project. It’s all about making the development of the Google Chrome operating system open source to get as many people involved as possible (similar to many Linux variants). Interesting but ultimately dull announcement. However there are some great explanations as to what Google Chrome OS is and when to use it as well as a demo of how it looks at the moment. Follow the link above to watch Jeff Goldblum’s presentation, the interesting demo starts at ~15mins and runs for 10 mins.

To save you having to watch the rest of the video I have summarised what I think are the key points

  • Google Chrome OS (GCOS) is exactly what we thought. An operating system that only consists of a web browser and can only run web apps.
  • It will only run on netbooks
  • It is not meant to replace your phone or your main PC. It is a secondary device, even though it may be the one you use most.
  • At the moment it boots in 7 seconds and logs in and is ready to browse in 3 seconds
  • It has an underlying file system that allows offline storage (not specifically Google Gears) and a file browser to view docs, photos, videos etc from USB devices (e.g. a USB stick, camera, phone)
  • Everything runs in the Google Chrome Browser (GCB).
  • Similar to Internet Explorer 9 it will utilise the GPU (hardware acceleration) to enhance the visual experience and performance
  • It’s aim is to comply with W3Cs web standards as much as possible and embraces HTML5 goodness
  • They use small windows (like pop-ups) called “panes” to allow you to run something like a notepad or music player in the background.
  • Google are working on the new “notification” web standard to allow you to be alerted when stuff happens e.g. a new email arrives
  • All security updates are handled by Google automatically in the background
  • At the moment it can run Flash content but other extensions will be available as long as Goggle have authorised them
  • You can launch multiple instances of GCB with multiple tabs and switch between them through an alt-tab style functionality (but better looking)
  • The GCB has an app menu in the top left similar to the Windows Start Menu. This stores bookmarks to web apps but you can also pin shortcuts to a browser tab
  • Files are associated with the relevant web app. E.G. clicking an email link will open up a Gmail “compose new mail” tab. Clicking on an Excel spreadsheet will open the Excel web app
  • Printing will be handled using an “innovative new concept” but Google are not ready to disclose that info yet.
  • Everything is stored in the cloud e.g. typing in “notepad” actually creates an online Google doc
  • All user data in the offline storage is encrypted
  • If you get a virus or malware the netbook will shutdown and re-image itself in a matter of minutes (compared to the hours involved in rebuilding a Mac or PC)
  • Google are trying to get OEMs to make netbooks with larger, high quality screens with a full size keyboard and decent trackpad.
  • It will only run on specific referenced hardware that Google will allow OEMs to use, e.g. it must be installed on a solid state disk (flash memory) – no hard disks allowed!
  • They should retail at similar prices to current netbooks on the market but its up to the OEM as the OS is free
  • The actual GCOS will be launched mid-2010 with devices available in time for Christmas
  • Lots of features developed for GCOS will appear in GCB (e.g. the “app” menu)

Phew! that was a long list! The webcast actually goes in to a lot more details and the nitty gritty of security and hardware.

It seems to me a great product. The problem is just trying to get people to understand what it is! There were even people at the event who hadn’t grasped it yet. The key thing is that it is being built to make our lives easier. It’s just for the web. Most of the stuff we do is online so we should have a device that gets you online as quickly, easily and safely as possible. It is different to Android and the iPhone because it’s not meant to be used on a small form factor, running local apps that connect to web services. There will be no “app store” as such because the whole web is the app store – every page is an app! This is why Google are forcing netbook OEMs to use larger screens and keyboards so we can take full advantage of the internet and what is already available. It is also really easy to pick up and use because it is all done in the browser, so if you can browse the web you can use Google Chrome OS. Another great opportunity is that it is all the code open source. Therefore,  Mozilla or Microsoft could take GCOS and make a FireFox OS or Windows Live OS not to mention the possibilities it gives for everyone else who wants to use or improve it.

I think this will really kick off well. I was sceptical at first but after seeing the demo it’s clear this will make it really easy to use netbooks. As a tech person I know there are a lot of benefits to working in the cloud but it involves way too much effort to get your head around it. GCOS will enable everyday people to jump into the cloud without even knowing it and they will reap the benefits of a speedy and secure system. What’s in it for Google? Well, they will hold all your data and can get you into their products like Google Docs, Search or Picasa along (with all their advertising) from the start. Whether that’s good or evil I can’t say but it certainly seems like good business!

If you have any questions or confusions then please comment and I’ll see if I can clear it up for you

UPDATE: Google have just officially released 2 Chromebooks from Acer & Samsung as well as anouncing loads of info at the Google I/O 2011 conference. I haven’t quite digested the new information yet but you can find out more here

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