Yes, it is real this time...
Google has unveiled 'Chrome OS' and the best way to explain this radically different operating system is to throw two formal releases at you to begin with.
Number One: the official Google video:
Number Two: the official Google blurb:
First, it's all about the web. All apps are web apps. The entire experience takes place within the browser and there are no conventional desktop applications. This means users do not have to deal with installing, managing and updating programs.
Second, because all apps live within the browser, there are significant benefits to security. Unlike traditional operating systems, Chrome OS doesn't trust the applications you run. Each app is contained within a security sandbox making it harder for malware and viruses to infect your computer. Furthermore, Chrome OS barely trusts itself. Every time you restart your computer the operating system verifies the integrity of its code. If your system has been compromised, it is designed to fix itself with a reboot. While no computer can be made completely secure, we're going to make life much harder (and less profitable) for the bad guys.
Most of all, we are obsessed with speed. We are taking out every unnecessary process, optimizing many operations and running everything possible in parallel. This means you can go from turning on the computer to surfing the web in a few seconds. Our obsession with speed goes all the way down to the metal. We are specifying reference hardware components to create the fastest experience for Google Chrome OS.
There is still a lot of work to do, and we're excited to work with the open source community. We have benefited hugely from projects like GNU, the Linux Kernel, Moblin, Ubuntu, WebKit and many more. We will be contributing our code upstream and engaging closely with these and other open source efforts.
Google Chrome OS will be ready for consumers this time next year. Sign up here for updates or if you like building your operating system from source, get involved at chromium.org.
And so... is this a big deal? Well, yes and no. Yes, Google is right: Chrome OS is a completely different way of thinking and No, because in practical terms a lot of this is currently pie in the sky and version 1.0 won't even be ready for a year.
Yes, it is crazy fast. Google showed a demo of Chrome OS (dubbed 'Chromium OS' in its beta stage) booting on a laptop in just seven seconds (see the middle video). On top of this most of the web applications we use every day: web mail, mapping, web sites, blogs, social networking, etc will be largely unhindered.
On the counter side productivity will be limited. Cloud based suites likes Google Docs will certainly help, but web apps are in a largely formative state and you won't be happily editing RAW files for many years to come. On top of this, you can't run programmes! It is against the entire concept of the OS meaning no Office, no Photoshop, no iTunes, no Spotify, no games, etc etc. The Web is great, but it can't replace any of this fully as yet. And even if these web apps were of sufficient quality the speed of an average household broadband connection wouldn't be quick enough to do them justice.
In fact, Google admits "We are expecting this to be a secondary computer."
Consequently we can see where the cynics will be coming from, but at the same time the theory behind Chrome OS is incredibly optimistic. Furthermore, the evolution of Android in the public eye is a major indicator that Google does have what it takes to build an OS in public and the Chrome OS concept UI (bottom video) is very cool. Still, unless you're an experienced coder I'd suggest steering well clear of Chrome OS for now and only the lion hearted should check out the source code from the link below.
Will Microsoft and Apple be worried? Unlikely, those Messrs Balmer and Jobs will likely be stroking their chins in quiet contemplation and thinking Hmmmmmm.
For the official Google Chrome OS FAQ see page 2
Official Chrome OS photos on page 3