Google Chrome OS: A Preview

Google Chrome OS is Google’s new operating system, designed to compete with Microsoft Windows in the netbook market.

Chrome OS won’t ship a final version until late 2010, but Michael Miller (author of the upcoming book Using Google Chrome OS) got his hands on an early developer copy and has a preview of the new operating system — which looks suspiciously like Google’s Chrome web browser.

Look out Microsoft—Google is entering the operating system market!

Google’s entrée into operating systems is Chrome OS, also known as Chromium. Chrome OS is based on Google’s Chrome web browser; in fact, the OS interface is almost identical to the browser interface. It’s an interesting little operating system, designed to work with the latest generation of netbook computers—and as different as can be from Microsoft Windows.

Let’s start with the basics. Chrome OS is a small and fast operating system designed for use solely with netbooks. It is not designed for traditional PCs—notebook or desktop—and will not be available for standalone installation. The only way you’ll be able to get Chrome OS is to buy a netbook with the operating system preinstalled. So upgrading your current system to run Chrome OS is out of the question.

As to those Chrome OS netbooks, they’re going to look a little different from the notebooks currently available for sale. Google is dictating certain features that hardware manufacturers must include if they want to use the Chrome OS; the most notable of these dictates is that the netbook include solid-state flash memory only, no hard disk storage.

This makes sense when you get into how Chrome OS works—and understand that it doesn’t store any applications or data locally.
That’s right; Chrome OS is a true web-based operating system. It stores all apps and files in the cloud, on Google’s servers, not on your own computer.

That means, of course, that you need to be connected to the Internet to use your computer; if you have an Internet outage or are out of range of a WiFi hotspot, you can’t even boot up, let alone access your files. That’s a real paradigm change in the way we do things.

This also means that Chrome OS isn’t for everybody. If you don’t have constant access to an Internet connection, forget it; likewise, if you depend on resource-intensive traditional applications, whether that be Adobe Photoshop or a customized business app, Chrome OS won’t cut it.

But if you use your computer primarily online, or if you perform traditional word processing and spreadsheet work that can be done as easily with Google Docs (or similar web-based apps) as it can with the software-based Microsoft Office, then Chrome OS will perform admirably.

Speaking of performance, one of Chrome OS’ claims to fame is its speed. Even in its current alpha-release version, Chrome loads at least twice as fast as does Windows 7 on a comparable machine, and Google says it will be even faster when running on a flash-based netbook—7 seconds to load versus Windows’ 50 seconds plus.

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