The Chrome OS can sync with the contents of your Chrome browser on a PC, Mac, or other device; this lets you use any computer as a surrogate to your Chromebook. Users choose which data and settings are synced across the browsers they have access to. Meanwhile, a guest mode keeps guest users' activities and content private. Google is initially relying on a Google account for sign-in but is working to support other identity systems such as OpenID.
By default, all user data is encrypted on a Chromebook's internal storage cache, and the Chrome OS automatically updates itself so that users always have the current version. Its "verified boot" feature, enabled through a hardware-based Trusted Protection Module (TPM), detects whether a Chromebook has been hacked, so users can revert to the last known safe configuration when launching the Chome OS.
Google says this secured-appliance approach should make the Chromebook popular with enterprise CIOs seeking to get out of the laptop management business. However, doing do means dumping all corporate apps in favor of HTML5-based Web apps such as Google Docs.
The Chrome OS runs directly on PC-style hardware, providing what Google claims is a simpler experience. One result of the browser-on-the-hardware approach is near-instant boot and wake, as there is no "fat" OS to load, nor drivers and application support files.
The company has produced a reference hardware design for a laptop that it expects PC makers to adopt as a baseline configuration, with a 12.1-inch screen, Intel Atom processor, full-size keyboard (without Caps Lock or function keys), touchpad, USB ports, solid-state storage, and Webcam. Other ports such as HDMI will be supported at some point, the company said. Printing will have to be done through Google's forthcoming CloudPrint service, which lets the device print to Internet-attached printers; USB-connected printers won't be supported. Google is making beta Chromebooks available to select users for testing later this month.
The Chrome OS could run on other chips in the future in addition to Intel's Atom, Google said. It could also support tablet-style devices; although the product team has focused on a laptop design with a full-size keyboard because it prefers that input method, the on-screen keyboards and touch-based interaction of tablets are supported by the Chrome OS. Supported USB devices will include keyboard, mice, cameras, and storage.
The Chromebooks will ship with built-in Wi-Fi and 3G capabilities, so they can be connected most of the time. In the United States, the chosen carrier for at least the first models is Verizon Wireless, which will offer pay-as-you go pricing in both per-megabyte and unlimited-usage day-pass plans on its CDMA 3G network. Chromebook buyers will get 100MB of data service per month from Verizon for the first 24 months they own the device; it was unclear how that would affect the devices' pricing.
Unlike with the pay-as-you-go AT&T 3G service for Apple's iPad, the Chromebooks' Verizon pay-as-you go service does not auto-renew unless explicitly canceled. Chromebooks' 3G radio also works with GSM-based 3G networks for international use, and Google said it expects to have a major carrier partner in each country the devices are released in.