When Google announced it was creating its own consumer-oriented operating system based on the Chrome browser, the world gasped. On November 18th, Google gave the world its first peek of Chrome OS -- and this time there were yawns and shrugs among the oohs and aahs.
What the search giant displayed was a combination of Google's already-familiar Chrome browser with a thin Linux underpinning -- an OS designed to do little more than connect to the Web and run Chrome in a heavily protected fashion.
But for new generations of computers users, for whom computing is the Web, Chrome OS may be able to satisfy their inner Goldilocks. Instead of a full-blown desktop / notebook PC or a tiny smartphone, they'll be able to pick up a just-right netbook or tablet PC that won't drain their wallets and Chrome OS will give them everything from YouTube to Yahoo! in a way that they're already familiar with.
Chrome OS won't be ready for about a year, but we're going to take a quick preview tour of the operating system via its publicly-available open source incarnation, known as Chromium OS. This is far removed from the finished product, but enough of the important pieces are in place to give us an idea of what Chrome OS is meant to do.
First, some clarifications. What people are downloading from Google and compiling and booting in VMs or on netbooks right now isn't "Chrome OS," strictly speaking. It's Chromium OS, the core open source element for Chrome OS. It doesn't include Google's brand-specific refinements, and it doesn't yet run on its target hardware -- mainly because there isn't any such hardware yet.
This may seem like nitpicking, but it's not. The final, official version will have a level of polish and a degree of integration with its host hardware that Chromium OS does not have by default. For the sake of consistency, we'll be referring to the OS as "Chromium OS" throughout this piece.
There are two ways to obtain Chromium OS. The first is to download the source code and build it yourself. This isn't a trivial task: the instructions for doing this run to a few pages , and require a running copy of Linux for the build environment.