Dec. 7, 2010 at 2:43 PM ET
Google today showed off its Chrome Cr-48 pilot notebooks, essentially 12-inch laptops wrapped around a Chrome browser — and little else. The company is also rolling out a Web app store, today, for users of the netbooks and all Chrome browsers.
In addition, the company revealed it teamed with Verizon Wireless to provide 100MB of cellular data per month for two years free, without any subscription, activation or overage fees. However, branded notebooks won't go on sale for about half a year.
Though it's a Web-only machine, Google thinks that's what most people want. "People live within the browser and use the Web most of the time," said Sundar Pichai, the Chrome notebook's product manager, in an unveiling today in San Francisco. The pitch is "nothing but the Web." Web apps and games will be able to run offline, and there will be modern benefits like a large clickable trackpad and a built-in webcam.
The approach is different than traditional PCs because the core of the OS is locked inside read-only firmware. Upon boot, this locked system scans all of the rest of the computer's OS, making sure everything is in order, and refreshing or alerting the user if something is amiss. This is called "verified boot." While on one hand this sounds a little Big-Brothery ("Don't modify your system, or we'll find out!"), it ensures what Google calls a "forever new" experience. That is, a month or a year after you get a Chrome notebook, the performance will be the same as Day 1, even though it will be updated automatically every time Google releases revisions.
Here, Google explains how Chrome notebooks effortlessly sync with Chrome browsers on other computers, how guests log in, and how your data is kept safe in event of an accident:
And here's the company's a-bit-too-simple explanation of Chrome's speed advantage:
If you're wondering about the pilot notebook's name, "Cr" is the elemental symbol for chromium, and 48 is the particular isotope that the developers wanted to be associated with the product. It will have no branding of any kind, as it is only a beta tester model.
Come next summer, Acer and Samsung will be rolling out Intel Atom-powered models with their own branding. The OS is designed to work on multiple processing platforms, but Intel will drive these first models. If you can't wait, there is a pilot program that individuals can apply for here, as well as one on YouTube where you can pitch your own reason why you deserve a Cr-48 test notebook.
Pichai said that while the Cr-48s work great, they show that Chrome OS isn't yet ready for the public. Google's Web-based printing tool is still in beta, the USB port doesn't yet support storage devices and cameras, and there are general bugs.
The Web app store, however, is available today, and you don't need a secret Google notebook to test it out. All you need is the Google Chrome browser. The Chrome app store can be reached here, and includes an Amazon shopping app, a new NY Times browsing app and EA games including Poppit. A cool new Kindle store and reader will be out early next year.
The rationale for downloading "apps" that effectively run like super-powered websites is that they can access features like GPS and local storage, says Pichai. This way, people can work offline, or use location-based services, online behaviors that are currently available in mobile devices but not always on notebook browsers. Here's Google's explanatory video: