Google first announced Chrome OS in September 2008, and on Tuesday the company revealed a few more tantalising details, including the first prototype Chrome netbook, which will be shipping to reviewers in the next couple of weeks.But a lot of questions still remain unanswered.
In July 2009, Google said that a number of hardware makers were working on Chrome notebooks, including Acer, HP, Lenovo, and Toshiba. On Tuesday, Google only mentioned Acer and Samsung. We can guess what happened to HP--it's probably working on its own notebooks based on Palm OS. But what about the others? And where is Dell in all this?
Google has two operating systems: Android and Chrome. According to Android chief Andy Rubin, Android is for phones and highly portable small devices like tablets. Chrome is for notebooks.
But Google's Chrome blog now says there will be 'devices beyond notebooks' and yesterday at Le Web in Paris, Google product chief Marissa Mayer said that the company hasn't ruled out Chrome tablets. Tantalizingly, beta version 6 of the Chrome browser added touch support with buttons for copying, pasting, and zooming in on a page.
The specs on the prototype Chrome notebook sound a lot like a typical netbook today: 12.1-inch screen, no optical drive, 8 hours of battery life, built-in Wi-Fi. The main difference is the inclusion of the built-in 3G antenna. So will the first Chrome notebooks going to be priced around $300 like a low-end netbook? Or will Google try and position them as a novelty premium item like the iPad and charge $450 or more?
Will unhappy Windows customers be able to swap out Windows for Chrome? Google dodged this question on Tuesday, saying only that Chrome was designed for newer hardware.
Google has admitted that the current build of Chrome doesn't even support USB storage drives yet, and was dodgy when asked about support for digital cameras and other devices. As far as printing goes, Google suggests using the upcoming Cloud Print service, which will let you send print jobs over the Internet--to a printer that's connected to a Windows machine.
Google gave some examples of how apps will work offline--Google Docs will still let you write and edit and will sync changes back to the cloud when you're reconnected, and you'll be able to cache some HTML5 games for offline play. But most of the apps in the Chrome Web App store today assume Internet connectivity, and Chrome chief Sudar Pichai revealed Google's bias when he said 'computers aren't that useful when they're not connected.'
Chrome notebooks will come with a free data plan from Verizon, which tops out at 100MB per month. That ought to last about three days for most users. There will also be a pay-as-you-go plan that costs $9.99 for a day of unlimited daily browsing. That adds up to $300 a month for daily use. So we know the upper and lower limits, but pricing is still unknown for the plans that most people will actually use.
Computers aren't the only devices that could use an efficient, Web-centric OS. What about TVs? Google TV is based on Android today, but Chrome could offer better Web surfing. How about terminals for business computing? Citrix spent a lot of time on stage talking about accessing corporate applications over the network using its Citrix Receiver application. You don't need a full computer for that.
Since Chrome was first announced in 2008, Microsoft executives have dismissed it as a mere press release. Now there's a real notebook in the wild running Chrome, even if it is only a prototype. Will Chrome finally spur Microsoft to do something serious about longstanding Windows problems like slow boot time? And if so, when will Microsoft start showing off some of its work for Windows 8?
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