We popped along to Google's London HQ this week to talk Chrome OS, Google's new low-resource Linux-based operating system for netbooks and notebooks.
Chrome OS product marketing manager, Eli Lassman, took us through the features of the CR-48 prototype portable which TechRadar saw last week and gave us some background on the imminent launch of notebooks featuring Chrome OS.
It's fair to say that the version of Chrome OS we've seen on the CR-48 is not finished. The browser itself is slow, but the real problem is the apps – Chrome OS needs Google to make several of its apps support offline use in HTML5 and replace the functionality lost with the end of Google Gears – especially Google Docs.
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We had expected Google Docs to have launched its new offline capability by now, and Lassman confirmed the web giant is still working on this.
As Chrome OS is ostensibly just a browser interface, Lassman was asked if the OS was too limited in terms of its interaction with the hardware. "The whole focus is on the cloud and the experience [is] better there," he explained. "There will be storage and you can download files onto the solid state drive itself, but the real focus is the cloud, that's where it really comes alive."
The OS will also have its own media player – which doesn't currently work – as well as full USB storage support.
Chrome OS apps will be available via the Chrome Web Store which is also used in the Google Chrome browser. So far there are 3,700 available.
Chrome OS UK release date
As for a Google Chrome OS release date, the first notebooks are due to hit during the summer months, though exactly when remains unclear.
Precise Chrome OS launch dates would appear to be up to the launch partners. Initial units will come from Acer and Samsung, with 3G and Wi-Fi variants from each. As for pricing, ballpark figures point at between $250 and $600.
If that means £199 Chrome OS machines, Google will be onto a winner, if it ends up being £299, that's dangerously into Windows netbook (and cheap notebook) territory.
The CR-48 Chrome OS notebook we've had in the TechRadar office isn't a shipping unit, nor is it GSM-enabled – it's actually the same Verizon CDMA unit that has been previewed in the US since December. The unit will be supplied unlocked.
In terms of actual retail outlets, we believe Google will aim high and the clout of Samsung and Acer should ensure we'll see Chrome OS laptops in standard retail outlets such as Currys and PC World.
Chrome OS's real boon is speed. As Lassman explains. "From the time you enter your username and password from the time you get into Chrome OS you can be in your email in 10 to 15 seconds.
"We've really focused on making sure everything is taken out of the way so you can get online as quickly as possible. That shows you who the target audience is, people who are already living in the cloud. We want to strip out what frustrates people about operating systems.
"You can take your friend's computer and if you have a Google Account you can login, but you don't need to have a Google Account.
"It takes seven seconds from switching on to get to the browser," continues Lassman. "The original goal was two or three seconds… they're working towards it, they've halved it in a relatively short space of time and it will only get better.
As with Android, Google aims to ensure a consistent experience across all Chrome OS netbooks with a hardware spec for manufacturers. "There is a guideline that we have for the OEMs. It's a reference for what we want to have, including the keyboard [layout], the trackpad and screen resolution."
But is Chrome OS too restricted by the lack of availability of apps and is Chrome OS, the browser and the Chrome Web Store yet another closed ecosystem?
"We're really trying to avoid the idea of a walled garden," counters Lassman. "We're trying to keep people on the web. The whole idea is that we're giving access to the web. The whole operating system is just based on bringing people online."
"I think what this comes down to is that there's so much you can do on the web itself. When I'm on my computer I'm using a web browser 95 per cent of the time. So I wouldn't think of it as a closed system as we have the whole web. The apps are optimised… ultimately you get to use the whole web. "
Apps on Android and Chrome OS
Lassman also said it would be relatively simple to port apps between Chrome OS and Android due to the HTML5 standards used – and there's additional benefit from the Chrome Web Store's payment system. For developers using the Chrome Web Store in this way, Google charges developers a processing fee of 30 cents plus five per cent of the transaction amount.
"For developers, having the payment built in gives them the incentive to design apps. Since you are basically building an advanced website, it's not the situation where you would have to rebuild."
Chrome OS is a totally open source project unlike Android. Google is not releasing the source code for Android 3.0 Honeycomb in an attempt to attain a unified experience with all Honeycomb tablet devices.
We'll be bringing you a full review of Chrome OS on TechRadar when we have a final unit.