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What to Expect from Google's Chrome OS

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Like a slimmed down Mac OS or Windows 7.

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It's conquered search. It's tinkered with Web apps. It's dabbled in Web browsing. And now, Google (GOOG) is entering the operating system game with its upcoming Chrome OS.

Today, Google hosted a live event at its Mountain View, California, headquarters to provide a very preliminary look at Chrome OS. The event wasn't a product launch but rather a peek at the platform's alpha stages. The company revealed that it's roughly a full year away from an official launch -- hopefully in time for the end of 2010.

The open-source operating system will be aimed at netbook users who prefer Web applications rather than computing power. This indicates a heavy reliance on Google's already popular suite of apps, such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and so on. Because the project is open source, the source code is available to the public which developers can follow and use in upcoming software.

Vice President of Product Management Sundar Pichai stressed that the foundations of Chrome OS will be speed, simplicity, and security. Along with quicker load times for programs, Google hopes for faster -- if not immediate -- boot times. "Every app on Chrome OS is a Web app... All your data is in the cloud," Pichai said -- which means personal data, settings, and preferences will be stored online and accessible from every computer without physical data syncing.

A demo of a laptop running Chrome OS booted in just seven seconds with an additional three seconds to access an application. The OS itself has a very similar appearance of the Chrome browser -- tabs up at the top of the screen dedicated to Google's suite of web apps. A contacts app window mirrored the Google Talk window found in Gmail.

A multi-pane feature similar to Snow Leopard's (AAPL) Exposé simultaneously displayed all the running programs in smaller windows. Although the graphics are very simplistic at this stage, Chrome OS still looks like it will be a slimmed down version of Mac OS and Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows 7. Running on a netbook, Chrome OS will serve as a lightweight companion to your normal desktop or laptop. See also Is Windows 7 Worth the Upgrade?

Pichai admitted, "If you're a lawyer and you spend your whole day editing docs back and forth, this is not the machine for you. Not yet."

Engineering director Matt Papakipos mentioned that Google wishes to make Chrome OS like a TV -- opting for solid-state drives rather than hard disk -- for an "instant-on" feel. Local storage will be possible, but cloud computing is what the company is aiming for. The platform will auto-update, allowing for every user to always be on the same version -- something Microsoft and Apple can't claim. It seems a tad draconian, but if Google can pull it off, auto-update would mean far fewer headaches for developers.

The file system will be encrypted and all Web apps will be sandboxed -- run separately from the OS -- by default. Data loss is of little concern because it will be stored remotely within the cloud, but offline caching will be possible.

Google is working with computer vendors -- none were specifically named -- to support Chrome OS. The company explicitly stated it will not be a downloadable OS and will only be available on Chrome OS devices. No price target was revealed.

Along with the OS, Google announced that a Mac version of the Chrome browser will be available later this year, and a Linux version is forthcoming. Although Firefox currently trounces Chrome in the field of extensions, Google plans on expanding the number of extensions in the coming months and focusing on better integration with HTML5.

To better understand Chrome OS, Google produced this video.
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