In recent years, consumers have had three major desktop-oriented operating systems to choose from: Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. On Tuesday, Google introduced a fourth option, Chrome OS.
'With Chrome OS, we have the development of a viable third choice for the desktop," said CEO Eric Schmidt, evidently unconvinced that Linux counts where consumers are concerned.
At a media event in San Francisco, Google announced a pilot program for Chrome OS, its highly anticipated browser-based operating system, launched the Chrome Web Store, its effort to change the way Web apps are discovered and purchased, and provided an update on the global adoption of its Chrome browser.
Chrome OS won't be ready for a stable release until mid-2011. That's when Google's Chrome OS hardware partners Acer and Samsung are expected to ship their Chrome OS netbooks.
But Google this week plans to begin shipping specially commissioned hardware to select testers through its Chrome OS pilot program.
Program participants will receive a Google-commissioned netbook, designated Cr-48, with Chrome OS installed. The company extended invitations to event attendees, to a random group of users through an invitation placed on the Chrome new tab page, and to some Facebook users who participated in a recent quiz. Would-be Chrome OS users may also apply online and are encouraged to submit a YouTube video to convey why they should be invited into the pilot program.
"Chrome OS is nothing but the Web," said Sundar Pichai, VP of product management.
Google is throwing out the things people hate most about computers -- slow startup times, the need to update and install software, and security worries -- and offering an operating system that loads its Chrome browser instead of a desktop file system.
Those using Chrome OS will have to rely on Web applications in place of familiar favorites like Microsoft Office. To ensure an adequate supply of Web apps, Google launched its Chrome Web Store, an online app store that aims to do for Web apps what Apple's iTunes has done for music and iOS apps: build a viable market by providing a mechanism for discovery and monetization.
The Chrome Web Store has some 500 apps at launch but Google expects that developers will add many more in the months ahead. Several companies sent representatives to discuss the Web apps they've created for Chrome, including Amazon, Electronic Arts, and the New York Times.
Amazon showcased an e-commerce Web app called Amazon Windowshop and Kindle for the Web, which will be available early next year. Electronic Arts demonstrated a game called Popit that will ship with future versions of Chrome. And the New York Times showed off a newspaper reading Web app that allows the user to control how news gets presented.
Pichai acknowledged that offline functionality was necessary and demonstrated a version of Google Docs that works offline (coming early next year). But he said that the Web is better when a network connection is available. That's why Google has partnered with Verizon to offer on-demand cellular connectivity with every Chrome notebook.
The Verizon plan provides for 100 MB of free data every month for two years. It doesn't require a contract and additional data can be purchased as needed, starting at $9.99 for unlimited data for one day.
Pichai also provided an update on the adoption of its Google Chrome browser. Chrome had 70 million users in May. Now it has 120 million users worldwide.
"The single most common piece of feedback we get from our users is that Chrome is fast," he said. "Speed has been our biggest focus since day one."