chrome-cp-5434335

The Google Chrome operating system could be available to netbook users in the second half of 2010. ((Paul Sakuma/Associated Press))

Google plans to launch a new operating system for personal computers, an attempt to challenge the dominance of Microsoft's Windows system.

The open-source operating system is based on Google's internet browser, Chrome. The Google Chrome OS will initially be targeted at netbooks — the smaller, no-frills, low-cost version of the laptop, said Google in a posting Tuesday night.

"Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010," Sundar Pichai, Google's vice-president of product management, and Linus Upson, Google's engineering director said in a joint blog post.

"Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We're designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web."

PC makers respond

Leading PC makers have reacted cautiously to Google's announcement about Chrome OS. These companies generally offer Windows on most of their products.

The backing of these companies will likely go a long way to ensuring Chrome's success.

A Hewlett-Packard spokeswoman said the company is "studying" the new operating system. "We want to assess the capability it may have for the computer and communications industries," Marlene Somsak told the Wall Street Journal.

Dell, meanwhile, said it "constantly assesses new technologies" when considering future products.

But it appears some PC makers have already signed on. Within the next day, Google will announce the names of some PC makers who have agreed to work with Chrome, spokeswoman Caroline Hsu told PC World.

But the release made no mention of how the operating system would run desktop applications, saying instead that for application developers, "the web is the platform."

Google's post said that Chrome OS will be for people who spend most of their time on the internet, and that it will be designed to eventually power full-size desktop systems. But there were few other details.

Experts divided

Some observers immediately questioned how effective the system might be when it comes to running applications such as Word or desktop-based video players.

"That's a problem, in my view," Ian Paul wrote on the PC World blog. "Sure, Google Docs is a great application for typing up a basic document, but it is far from the powerful tool that Microsoft Word is. So while Google says this OS is ideal for netbooks, I don't see why you would want to handicap yourself by using a less-functional OS on a piece of hardware — like a netbook — that has a nearly full-sized keyboard and a good processor."

But others, like Michael Arrington, who runs the blog TechCrunch, said the Chrome OS ushers in a new age where desktop applications will be marginalized, as Google apps, HTML 5 and web platforms like Flash and Silverlight come into prominence.

"Don’t worry about those desktop apps you think you need. Office? Meh," he wrote.

"The Internet is everything. All the OS has to do is boot the damn computer, get me to a browser as fast as possible and then stay the hell out of the way."

Google CEO Eric Schmidt and co-founder Sergey Brin are expected to discuss the new operating system later this week when they appear at a media conference hosted by Allen & Co. at the Sun Valley resort in Idaho.

Google has already introduced another operating system called Android for mobile devices and netbooks. But the company says the Chrome OS is a distinct entity and will be better suited to netbooks than Android.

With files from The Associated Press