Inside Google's New Chrome OS 'Chromebook'
Google's vision of a cloud-only laptop is now here -- how it compares to traditional laptops and to tablets like the iPad
Tue, December 07, 2010
InfoWorld — It's been a year since Google (GOOG) 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. (InfoWorld.com is covering this event live. Return to this story to get the latest updates.)
The Chrome OS runs directly on PC hardware, providing what Google claims is a simpler experience. The company has produced a reference hardware design for a laptop it expects PC makers to adopt. The OS presents a browser as the user interface, with app icons in its main window. (It has the same interface as the Chrome 9 desktop browser.) One result of the browser-on-the-hardware approach is near-instant boot and resume. Another is that the "Chromebook" syncs 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. (A guest mode keeps guest users' activities and content private.)
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When disconnected, a Chromebook uses HTML5's offline storage capability to continue working in Google Docs -- or will once Ggogle updates Google Docs to add this capability, as it plans to soon. Other HTML5-savvy Web apps can also work in disconnected mode.
Chromebooks will ship with built-in Wi-Fi and 3G capabilities, so they can be connected most of the time. In the U.S., the carrier is Verizon Wireless, which will offer pay-as-you go pricing in per-megabyte and day-pass plans on it's CDMA 3G network. Unlike the iPad, the pay-as-you go service does not auto-renew. Chromebooks' 3G radio also works with GSM-based 3G networks for international use. The devices use Google's forthcoming Google CloudPrint service to print to your network-connected printers.
By default, all user data is encrypted, and Chrome OS automatically updates itself so users always have the current version.
Google also announced a shortcuts feature in its updated Chrome 9 desktop Web browser that lets you use one-letter strings to call up favorite links, as well as fast PDF rendering and a new API called WebGL for 3D media that taps into the computer's graphics processor for realistic rendering. Google also said 120 million users now use Chrome as their primary browser. A new adaptive compiler called Crankshaft can render pages 50 times faster, Google claims. The new browser has simplified the UI, automatically installs security updates, eliminates interrupting modal dialog boxes, can put some Web plug-ins into sandboxes so they can't transmit malware to other areas in the browser, and can sync user-determined content such as bookmarks across all your computers.