Google to launch Chrome netbooks next year

Google plans to offer its Chrome operating system, which will let computers work without Windows and connect directly to the internet, on netbooks by Christmas next year.

Google plans to offer its Chrome operating system, which will let computers work without Windows and connect directly to the internet, on netbooks by Christmas next year.

The company, in a webcast news conference on Thursday, touted Chrome as a revolutionary approach that will speed users' access to the internet by making computers feel more like televisions, which work right away after being turned on.

"This is a fundamentally different model of computing," said Sundar Pichai, vice-president of product management at Google. "We're going to go through a paradigm shift."

The problem with current operating systems, such as Microsoft's Windows or Apple's OS, is that they require a sometimes lengthy boot-up to load all sorts of functions and applications that most people never use, Pichai said. Chrome does away with most of that process and takes users directly to their web browser. Pichai said current boot-up time is seven seconds, but Google is working to shave that further.

Google is working with several computer makers to combine the operating system with hardware, which will be slightly bigger than current netbooks and will feature full-size keyboards, he said. The devices will use the wireless "n" wi-fi standard to connect to the internet and will have solid state flash storage, rather than the disc drives found in many computers.

Chrome, which is free for hardware makers, is also being designed with laptop and desktop computers in mind, Pichai said, but for now the company is focused on netbooks. Google expects the Chrome-based netbooks to retail for about the same as existing models on the market.

The company also announced it was making the operating system completely open source, so that anyone who wants to develop applications for it can do so. Pichai demonstrated that Microsoft, the company that Chrome takes direct aim at, has already developed its own applications that work within Google's web browser, also called Chrome. Users can open their Excel spreadsheet documents, for example, through a web-based version of Microsoft's software. 

Chrome will consequently push further the idea of cloud computing, where all of a user's files are stored on the internet rather than on their computer's hard drive. Critics have said the concept is problematic because users could lose control of their data or would be at the mercy of outages at service providers, such as Google.

Pichai countered such questions from reporters by suggesting that users will always own their own data and that online outages are far less frequent than problems that occur with the computers themselves. The cloud's reliability "compares very, very well," he said.