Introduction to Chrome OS:
Target Audience for Chrome OS:
Google's vision for Chrome extends beyond the netbook. The operating system may eventually power full-sized desktop computers, which makes it potential competition with Windows 7 and the Mac OS. However, Google hasn't seen Chrome OS as a tablet operating system. Android is Google's tablet OS, because it's built around a touch-screen interface while Chrome OS still uses a keyboard and mouse or touchpad.
Chrome OS Availability:
You can download and install an early version of Chrome OS now. However, this is still very experimental, so you should only attempt it if you know what you're doing. You must have Linux and an account with root access. If you've never heard of a sudo command, you should wait until Chrome is a little further along in the development process or buy Chrome pre-installed on a consumer device.
At some point in 2011, you should be able to buy computers with the actual Google OS installed. Google is working with Acer, Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba, although that's not a guarantee that any of those companies will create a Chrome OS computer.
Google launched a pilot program using a beta version of Chrome installed on a netbook called the Cr-48. Developers, educators, and end-users could register for the pilot program, and a number of them were sent the Cr-48 to test. The netbook came with a limited amount of free 3G data access from Verizon Wireless.
Google ended the Cr-48 pilot program in March of 2011, and confirmed that they expected actual Chrome OS consumer devices to ship within the year. If you search eBay, there are probably still a few pilot recipients selling Cr-48s, though you'll likely be paying more than an actual Chrome OS netbook will cost later this year.
Chrome and Android:
To further confuse this distinction, there are rumors that Chrome is indeed destined to become a tablet OS. Netbook sales have been eroding as full size laptops become cheaper and tablet computers like the iPad become more popular. Why would Google need both an Android and Chrome tablet OS developed by competing teams from the very same company - especially when developers complain that Android is already too fragmented? That's a very good question.
Google's I/O developer's conference should shed some light on Google's Chrome plans going forward. Stay tuned.
Google OS Philosophy:
Chrome OS is really designed as an operating system for computers that are only used for connecting to the Internet. Rather than downloading and installing programs, you just run them in your Web browser and store them on the Internet. In order to make that possible, the OS has to boot up very quickly, and the Web browser has to be extremely fast. Chrome OS will likely make both of those happen.
Will it be enticing enough for users to buy a netbook with Chrome OS instead of Windows? That's uncertain. Linux hasn't made a huge dent in Windows sales, and it's been developed for much longer. However, cheap devices and a simple, easy to use interface may just entice users to switch.