Google has opened their new web based operating system (OS), Chrome OS, for limited public beta. The new 'waitless' operating system promises to be extremely fast and extremely secure.
What is Waitlessness?
One of the key differences in Google's product, when compared to Microsoft Windows or Apple OS, is that whereas the processing power of most desktop applications is drawn from the computer itself, Chrome OS applications do all their processing in the cloud. This means that laptops running Chrome OS should be cheaper and more 'lightweight'. To put it into perspective, the experience of running Chrome OS is likely to have the 'instant-on' experience you get with an iPad (and other iOS devices), because the OS is not processor intensive.
In fact, the core 'program', in the traditional sense, will be the Chrome browser (which has grown to a 120 million users in 2010), and new software that would have, in the old days, been installed via hardware such as a CD or DVD, will now simply be downloaded from the Chrome webstore. Consequently the Chrome Browser it has been adapted accordingly to have a listed apps above bookmarks in the home screen. You could say "that apps are the new bookmarks" - but most of your bookmarks were to cloud based computing applications anyway, such as Gmail, Google Docs and FlickR - there's actually quite a cool quiz you can do to assess how much cloud based computing you are doing without knowing it already.
Another cool feature of Chrome OS is simply the fact that as everything is web based, all your programs sync across every device that can run that Chrome Apps. Chrome OS also supports a 'guest mode' so other users can use your computer without using any of your personal data.
Again because it's all web/cloud based, the implication is that security will be tighter too. Thousands of different users increases the number of threats to adapt to, so the OS should evolve more quickly. Furthermore a cloud based computer can re-install uncorrupted backups of the OS from the web.
From all of the above, it's clear that a distinguishing factor of Chrome OS is how personalized it will make the laptop or desktop computer. In many ways, it's a mobile OS that can be transported to any device so, where you might have a separate computers for work and home; with Chrome OS you might simply have separate accounts. This threatens to disrupt the desktop market in a significant way as a cloud based OS means that everything you really love about the computer and how it works exist in the operating system, not on the device. To get a sense of the depth of change this could engender, just think back to how the iPhone interface transformed the mobile phone.
Once out of beta, the stark contrast between what is possible on one high spec computer running one operating system and a single decent operating system that is interoperable between many devices and the realization of what a single person's personal computing needs versus business computing needs really is likely to cause significant change in what the market expects from desktop computing.
In fact, the possible impact Chrome OS could have on the way we use our computers are various and significant enough that YouTube users have been invited to create their own commercial advertising it. This gives you a chance of winning a Chrome enabled laptop, but also seems like a direct challenge to Microsoft, who once invited the web to create commercials that demonized the concept of "search overload" in support of Bing (not a search engine, but a decision engine apparently).
Interested users and companies can also apply to be a beta tester of the new Chrome Notebook. Google are giving away thousands of Cr-48 notebooks, which feature12.1in screen, full-size keyboard, 802.11n Wi-Fi and a Verizon 3G modem with 100MB of data free each month. Additional data can be purchased by the gigabyte, or an unlimited day pass can be purchased for $9.99 without signing up to a contract. A preview of the Chrome Netbook can be seen here:
A lucky few may be paid an early visit from Santa this year. Selected users of Chrome, YouTube and Facebook may receive an invitation to get a free Cr-48 while fans of Chrome's Facebook page can enter a competition to win one of the new systems.
But remember kids, don't be evil, because Santa running Chrome OS definitely knows whether you have been naughty or nice.