It's been a year since Google first said it would deliver a browser-only operating system for laptops called Chrome OS. Today, Google previewed the real thing at a time the iPad slate concept has already gained remarkable traction by businesses and users alike. Actual Chrome OS-based "Chromebook" laptops won't be available until mid-2011, with Acer and Samsung expected to offer the first models. Google said pricing was unknown and would be up to each device maker. The Chrome OS itself is still a work in progress, said Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google.
"It was more complex to do this than expected, especially because you couldn't build Web apps at the scale and power of the hardware available" 13 years ago when the concept of a Web-based computer first was kicked around at Sun Microsystems, said Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Now with the advancements in cloud computing back ends, public networks, and HTML5, "there's the opportunity to have a third option," alongside Windows and Mac OS X, he said.
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The Chromebook is designed to run everything from the Web. The operating system presents the Chrome 9 browser as the user interface, with app icons in its main window -- the same interface as the forthcoming Chrome 9 browser for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. When disconnected, a Chromebook uses HTML5's offline storage capability to continue working in cloud apps such as Google Docs -- or it will once Google updates Google Docs to add this capability, as it plans to do soon. Other HTML5-savvy Web apps will also work in disconnected mode.
The only way to run traditional apps on a Chromebook is through a desktop virtualization client such as Citrix Receiver, which will be available for Chrome OS. Citrix Receiver is widely used today on Google's Android and Apple's iOS mobile operating systems; Citrix clients are available for Mac OS X and Windows as well.