Misconceptions and misinformation have surrounded the Chrome OS almost since the day it was announced. This week's press conference at Google's Mountain View, Calif., campus helped to clear the air, but uncertainty about what the search giant's new OS has to offer still remains.
The full picture of the Chrome OS will become clearer as time rolls on. For now, if you want to understand what the Chrome OS is, you first have to understand what it isn't.
1. It's not Linux
True, the Chrome OS is based on the Linux kernel, just as it draws from a number of other open source projects, including Moblin and Ubuntu. All the more reason why the Chrome OS itself should be open source.
But none of that will matter to consumers who buy Chrome OS devices. Booting the Chrome OS takes you directly to the Chrome browser. There's no splash screen, no progress meter, and no tedious initialization process. Right now, the whole boot cycle takes just seven seconds -- and according to Google VP of product management Sundar Pichai, Google is "working really, really hard" to make it even faster.
Users won't have to worry about maintaining a Linux system, either. Updates and patches will be delivered automatically over the Web, and the OS itself will make sure you have the latest ones installed.
In short, a Chrome OS device will no more feel like Linux than your home router, TV set-top box, or smartphone does -- any of which could be running Linux right now. So if it's a Linux desktop you want, get Ubuntu; but if a fast, seamless Web experience appeals to you, the Chrome OS might be right up your alley.
2. It's not Android
Google turned a lot of heads when it unveiled its Android smartphone OS platform two years ago. When it announced the Chrome OS in July, it sparked lots of speculation that Google was planning to unify the handheld and desktop experiences in a way that would put Apple and Microsoft to shame.
No such luck. The Chrome OS doesn't try to replicate Android's desktop, widgets, app store, or APIs, and the Android browser still isn't Chrome.
Don't expect to see the Chrome OS running on smartphones any time soon, either. Google is working with manufacturing partners to create reference designs for Chrome OS devices, and their form factor is very specific: netbook-like appliances.
The initial Chrome OS devices won't quite be PCs, but they won't be phones, either. They will be small, clamshell machines equipped with full-sized keyboards and touchpads. Unlike most notebooks, however, they won't have hard drives -- just solid-state storage.
So don't think of Chrome OS as the next generation of Android, or the bridge between smartphones and PCs. Instead, think of Chrome OS devices as "netbooks 2.0," rethought and reworked for Web-centric computing.