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What is Google’s Chrome OS?


Ever since we got our hands on a Google Cr-48 notebook back in December, we’ve been exploring Chrome OS, Google’s very own operating system. Google finally announced at this month’s Google I/O conference that Chrome OS is ready for prime time and will be available in June through Acer and Samsung, with more vendors on the way. But the question remains: What’s all the hype about Chrome OS and Chromebooks and what does it mean for you?

Chrome: Not just a browser anymore
The first time we heard about Google Chrome, it was in connection with the browser developed through the open source Chromium project. Google’s Chrome browser took off like a flash and has gained market share each quarter since its debut. But now, the Chrome OS is taking on a life all of its own, separate from the browser that it is based on.

Google began developing the Chrome OS as an alternative to desktop-based operating systems. A desktop OS like Windows requires a high-end processor, lots of RAM, and large hard drives for storing not only the OS software but also any compatible applications you want to use. But Google was thinking outside of the box on this project.

Realizing that most people use their computers to get on the internet more than anything else, Google focused on what a browser-based operating system would look like. Using the open source Linux operating system as a foundation, the Chromium project began working the Chrome browser into the operating system itself, eliminating a traditional desktop along the way. More akin to a tablet’s home screen than a desktop, the Chrome OS takes advantage of cloud computing in a way no other major operating system ever has.

Pie in the sky
Cloud computing, in its simplest terms, runs applications and saves files using resources accessed through the internet rather than stored on your hard drive. The benefit of this is that files can be accessed from any location with any other computer that has internet access. Google makes great use of this concept in its Chrome OS, and the idea also features heavily in its new Web Store, which has hundreds of apps available for the new OS.

In addition to being synced with your Google account, giving you easy access to your Gmail, Chrome OS also integrates easily with other services such as Google Docs. With Google Docs in particular, the web apps are set up to auto-save after each change you make, so the file is always kept up to date.

Updates, security, and other non-issues
Another interesting aspect of Chrome OS is that system updates are automatically executed and downloaded in the background, so you don’t have to worry about anything. According to Google, this kind of automatic maintenance means a computer running Chrome (or a “Chromebook”) will actually speed up rather than slow down, over time.

In addition, Google’s behind-the-scenes browser security, pop-up blocking, and Gmail spam filter make it smooth sailing when it comes to navigating the dangerous seas of the internet. Indeed, there is no need for anti-virus or anti-spyware when you’re using Chrome OS, because any apps that you can access all come from the Web Store, where Google has recently began monitoring and ejecting malware.

The future of computing
With the announcement of the Acer and Samsung Chromebooks that will hit the market on June 15, could Google be ushering in the future of computing? Some people are speculating as much. While we wouldn’t go that far, the game plan behind the Chrome OS definitely shows thinking outside of the traditional box. But will the Chromebook be a viable competitor somewhere between a tablet device and a netbook or even a laptop? That still remains to be seen.

One thing that Google has going for it is its integrated cloud computing. With the infrastructure for that element already in place and users already using these web apps, Google has a built-in user base of potential customers for the Chromebook. With the same wifi + 3G option as the Cr-48’s beta test device, you can literally take cloud computing practically anywhere.

New services like Amazon Cloud Player and Google Music Beta mean cloud computing is an ever-growing segment of the computer industry. With the release of Chrome OS and its upcoming fleet of Chromebook computers, Google is positioned to capitalize on this trend like no other company to date.

Post by Michael Arcand

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