It’s been a long time in the pipeline, but Google’s cloud-based Chrome OS was finally properly unveiled and detailed today at a Google press event in San Francisco.
Using demo-hardware, several key features of the operating system were shown off and on first impressions, it actually looks pretty sweet. But first, let’s talk you through the basic principle of Chrome OS in case for one reason or another you’ve not heard of Google’s latest foray into the OS market.
As the name suggests, Chrome OS is loosely based upon Google’s web browser of the same name. Using, for the most part, the same interface, the entirely cloud-based OS allows computing in pretty much it’s most basic modern form, thus making it an apparently perfect platform for a basic computer user (you know, browsing, email etc.).
The entire operating system is incorporated into a traditional browser frame including tabs and the URL/Google search bar hybrid at the top, as well as favourites and settings panes and a bookmark bar.
However, what lurks within the browser is predictably a little different. And by ‘different’, I, of course, mean more. A lot more. And here is where the first main feature of Chrome OS comes in, web apps. A lot has been made of applications over the past few years, more so since the inception of the iPhone, and there is much debate as to the perfect environment for apps.
Google, in this instance at least, has gone with the entirely web-based approach, with apps synchronising on the go in the ‘cloud’. Current apps from the initial screens shown off include the expected Google apps: Gmail, GTalk, Google Reader, Maps and of course, YouTube. On top of that, there is a New York Times app and what looks like a note taking app.
According to Google, the OS is so fast, it is not the speed of the software that is the restriction, it is the speed of the user. In theory, Google says the OS will boot entirely in just a couple of seconds, and recover from a sleep mode almost instantaneously. Also, you can apparently get up and running from scratch with Chrome OS in a matter of seconds, and set up multiple logins to boot.
Speaking of logins, once you do login using your traditional Google login details, your settings, themes etc. are all dragged from the cloud and loaded on to your Chrome OS machine. All on the fly, all instant.
So let’s get on to those all-important extra features. For now, all we have is an instant-on web browser with a few neat Google bookmarks. Not exactly mind-boggling. Cloud print is the first interesting development, and of course, it is pretty self-explanatory. However, just to clarify it is a simple printing service that will allow you to print on your home printer from anywhere where you’re online. Unfortunately, though, it seems that there will be no support for a hard-wired printer as apparently Google rates their new option more highly than that.
Whilst we’re on the topic of being web-connected, there is also seemingly offline support which would, of course, prove to some degree useful. Google Docs was shown off in offline mode, operating identically to online, but waiting to sync with the cloud when you go back online.
Users in the United States are also to receive 100MB of free 3G data usage thanks to Verizon, and similar international deals are set to be announced in the future too.
Chrome OS-based machines are going to be arriving mid next year from Acer and Samsung, and until then developers will make do with an unbranded 12-inch machine called Cr-48.
So, whilst the idea of Chrome OS and its full cloud computing experience is seemingly very modern, being drawn on the web and all, it is actually quite an old concept according to Eric Schmidt, CEO of the company. He closed today’s press event by taking to the stage and announcing “our instincts were right 20 years ago, but we didn’t have the tools or technology.”
You can follow Rob on Twitter as @R0bNichols.