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Chrome OS, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cloud

Chrome OS: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cloud
Yesterday, Google finally took the cover off Chrome OS and, in so doing, gave a bunch of foamy-mouthed tech journalists an idea of what to expect once consumers are able to get their hands on it late next year. There weren't many surprises in the announcement. Chrome OS is a tweaked Chrome browser running on top of a streamlined version of Linux -- exactly what most were expecting. We can already play games, watch movies, create spreadsheets, and send IMs -- all without leaving the comfort of any number of browsers. Chrome OS just seeks to remove the middle man.

The highly customized version of Linux is designed to run on Google-certified hardware. By specifying what components can comprise a Chrome OS netbook, Google is able to strip away many "unessential" parts of the OS, making it boot and run faster. Even in this early stage (a year away from release), it only takes 10 seconds to go from pressing the power button to browsing the Web. There are some trade-offs to this design, however. Chrome OS will not support traditional hard drives, meaning you can forget about keeping your giant music collection on one of these babies. Instead, it will only feature smaller, faster, solid-state drives (SSD) and rely on the cloud to store documents and photos. It will, however, recognize and open whatever USB drives and cameras are plugged into it.

The interface, though subject to change, should feel familiar to users of Google's Chrome browser. Sites and "apps" will open in tabs, which can then be "pinned" (shrunk down to an icon and permanently placed in the tab bar) for quick access. The noticeable changes will primarily be to the tab bar, which will now include both a button that opens an applications menu and a system tray that will show time and battery life. There will also be what Google is calling "panels." These small pop-up windows will display applications you may want to access from any tab, including chat windows and music apps like Lala.

Your user ID will also enable you to log in to any Chrome OS netbook. From there, you'll be able to restore your open tabs and apps, regardless of whether or not you've used that particular device before.

Chrome OS also includes some interesting security features. In addition to running all tabs "sandboxed," which keeps one bad tab from crashing the entire browser, Chrome prevents any site or application from writing to the drive where the OS is stored. And, just to be safe, at every boot it verifies the code in the OS. If so much as a letter is out of place, it will download Chrome OS direct from Google and reinstall it, removing any potential malware in the process.

Sadly, consumers won't be able to download Chrome OS and install it on any PC they wish. It will only be available on new netbooks purchased from Google's hardware partners. But, since the operating system is completely free and open-source, there is nothing stopping someone from putting together their own version to run on other hardware. The fact that Google was using an off-the-shelf Eee for the demo shows that it's possible to do so.

Chrome OS-powered netbooks are not meant to be anyone's primary PC, but if you're like us and rely heavily on Web applications, one of these Goog-books might make a good, ultra-portable companion computer. And given the quick pace at which the computer world moves, by the time Chrome OS devices hit the market late next year, the public may have realized that desktop apps are completely unnecessary.

Check out the videos below for a look at what to expect from Chrome OS. [From: Download Squad, Engadget, Official Google Blog, and Chrome OS Webcast]

Tags: chrome, chrome os, ChromeOs, cloud, cloud computing, CloudComputing, NetBook, top

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