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Tuesday, December 07, 2010, 05:50 pm PT (08:50 pm ET)

Google delays netbook plans for Chrome OS to mid 2011

Google's plan to bring a web-centric, open operating system to netbooks has been delayed until the first half of 2011 as the company continues to work on Chrome OS, originally expected to launch this summer. The OS is held up on a wide variety of problems, from missing hardware support to Android-like fragmentation.

In an announcement earlier today, Google noted that its free Chrome browser, based on the WebKit open source project maintained by Apple, has tripled from 40 million to 120 million users. The Chrome browser is the basis for Google's forthcoming Chrome OS, which pairs the Linux kernel with a web-based app environment.

Google originally intended to ship Chrome OS on both Intel x86 and ARM-based netbooks by the middle of 2010 in a parallel effort to the company's Android operating system, which uses native and Java-like apps rather than being a web-based platform.

Chrome OS imagines an iPad-like future

"Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems," the company blogged last summer.

"We hear a lot from our users and their message is clear — computers need to get better. People want to get to their email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up," the company explained.

"They want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them. They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files. Even more importantly, they don't want to spend hours configuring their computers to work with every new piece of hardware, or have to worry about constant software updates. And any time our users have a better computing experience, Google benefits as well by having happier users who are more likely to spend time on the Internet."

While Google continues to work the bugs out of Chrome OS, Apple has already answered the problems Chrome OS was intended to address with the iPad, a simple new rethinking of the the PC which has vaulted Apple into position as the first place US mobile PC maker and third in mobile PC sales worldwide.

Apple also delivers a range of Mac notebooks from the light MacBook Air to professional MacBook Pros and its desktop line of Mac mini, iMacs and Mac Pros. Unlike the Chrome OS, these machines can run native Mac apps, can host X11 Linux apps, and can even run Windows apps in a virtualization environment.

New beta Chrome OS hardware

In anticipation of the launch of Chrome OS with partners Acer and Samsung next year, Google is making available test hardware for interested users. Noting that "some of the features of Chrome OS require new hardware," Google will offer its Chrome OS testers netbooks with "full-sized keyboards and touch pads, integrated 3G from Verizon, eight hours of battery life and eight days of standby time."

Hinting at new hardware-level security, Google's Chrome Blog also states, "even at this early stage, we feel there is no consumer or business operating system that is more secure" than Chrome OS. Part of that security may also come from the fact that Chrome OS lacks (by design) core support for typical operating services, as well as basic support for hardware, ranging from printing to USB devices.

The company's description of its netbook-like test hardware for Chrome OS also muddles the idea of whether Google plans to take on the iPad with Chrome OS tablets (as many pundits have projected), or whether it still plans to resurrect the netbook, a form factor that was all the rage when the company first announced the Chrome OS as an initiative back in July 2009, before the iPad deflated the netbook as a market segment and began eating into conventional PC sales.

Google may attempt both, allowing its licensees to experiment with a variety of devices to see which can gain traction. Such an effort would likely fractionalize Chrome OS as a platform just as it enters the market in competition against the second generation of iPad. Apple is also working to deliver a new Mac App Store to deliver apps driving sales of the thin, light MacBook Air and its full sized notebooks and desktops.

The difference is that Apple already has a large installed base of Mac users to market apps toward. Chrome OS will only run web apps, and offers no backwards compatibility with Android, or Windows, or even existing Linux apps.

Mac App Store


On page 2 of 3: Where's the apps for that? More Android-style fragmentation