Google has finally showed off a bit of its upcoming Chrome operating system, and it’s just as minimal as expected.
As alluded to in July, Chrome OS is essentially a tweaked version of the Chrome Web browser, running on top of a Linux kernel. Google will first introduce Chrome OS on netbooks, and is currently stressing them as secondary machines, rather than replacements for your main computer. Chrome OS should be available in netbooks around this time next year.
Hardly anything will be stored locally on the computer itself, and the operating system will rely entirely on Web applications for functionality. So if there’s no offline version of the software you need, Chrome OS is not for you. There’s also no desktop; the closest you get is a view of all your open browser windows. When you pop in an SD card or digital camera, the files appear in a special browser tab, and clicking on them opens them up in Web applications. The browser looks a lot like current versions of Chrome, but with an application button and additional tabs for quickly loading e-mail and other favorites.
In a demonstration that drew some chuckles, Chrome OS opened a spreadsheet in Microsoft’s online version of Excel. “It turns out Microsoft launched a killer app for Chrome OS,” said presenter Sundar Pichai, Google’s vice president of product management.
In exchange for giving up local storage and offline programs, users get a few perks in return: Chrome OS should load faster than other operating systems, because it’s essentially just a browser. Also, if something happens to your computer, you could theoretically get anther one and pick up right from where you left off.
Of course, Google’s view on computing is a bit distorted. Even someone who spends the vast majority of their time in a Web browser may still have use for installable programs, such as Skype and iTunes. And if you’re doing some word processing, say, on an airplane, you’ll still want functionality when there’s no Internet available.
Ultimately I think Chrome OS is farsighted. Google’s imagining a future where storing and doing everything online will be easier. It’s an exciting outlook, even if we’re not there yet.