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Posted at 3:25 PM ET, 12/ 7/2010

Google opens Chrome Web store, demos Chrome OS

By Rob Pegoraro

Google unveiled a round of software releases that expand its Chrome browser's utility and turn it into a full-fledged operating system--and show, once again, how much this company has its head in the "cloud" of Internet-based computing.


The Mountain View, Calif., company's presentation began with a recap of recent updates to Chrome, most shipped in the Chrome 8 release that it quietly delivered last week.

Chief among them is the arrival of Google Instant searching from Chrome's "omnibox" address-and-search space--demoed by typing "e" and having ESPN's home page automatically load.

Chrome will also gain a hardware acceleration feature that lets the computer's graphics processor, often unused outside of video games, render such complex Web content as a 3D animation of fish in a fish tank. (Microsoft's upcoming Internet Explorer 9 has a similar capability.)

An upgraded sync feature will extend an existing option's capabilities to replicate more of a user's experience of Chrome--for example, your list of recently-visited sites saved site passwords--across different installations of the browser. And Google plans to extend "sandboxing" security to the Adobe Flash plug-ins it installs and updates with the browser.

Up next was a demo of the Chrome Web Store that Google announced at its May Google I/O developers conference.

The idea of a Web page at which you can find and save links to useful sites may sound a lot like the 1994 incarnation of Yahoo, but Pichai pitched the Web Store as a way for users to find Web-based applications worth using all the time--and paying for, if necessary.

A series of demos showed how Web Store apps could provide the sort of seamless interactivity of traditional, disk-based applications--even without a working Internet connection. For example, an NPR app allowed the user to build a playlist through drag-and-drop interaction, while a New York Times app permitted offline reading. In each case, a user would only have to look up the app on the store, read reviews of it, pay for it if necessary and then have access to it from any other copy of Chrome. (You can also run a Web Store app in another modern browser--no, not IE 6--if you bookmark it.)

Amazon demonstrated not just a Web Store front-end for its store but a reader app for its Kindle, due early next year, that will compete with the Google e-book reader app introduced yesterday.

Finally, Google demonstrated Chrome OS, the laptop operating system it first announced in July 2009. Pichai advertised it as "nothing but the Web," built around Chrome, Web applications and cloud services.

One of the core ideas here is to provide what office IT departments typically do with expensive server hardware and software--instant access to your data, applications and preferences on whatever machine you use. A Chrome OS notebook (Pichai took care to use that term instead of "netbook") should take only a few moments to set up, once you have a user profile stored, and even fewer to boot up or resume.

A "guest" mode will let you loan a Chrome notebook to a friend without him or her messing with your own data or settings or leaving his or hers behind. Chrome OS will also allow offline operation--but in the U.S., every Chrome notebook will come with 100 megabytes of mobile-broadband service from Verizon Wireless a month for the first two years.

Verizon will sell a variety of a la carte, no-contract plans--none with activation or reconnection fees, a distinct contrast from the data access it sells for Samsung's Galaxy Tab tablet.

Automatic updates, much like those for Chrome itself, and a "verified boot" feature that ensures the operating system hasn't been altered should keep Chrome OS more secure than other laptop operating systems.

You won't have to use a Google Account to run a Chrome notebook, company managers said in a subsequent Q&A--although on a device as Web-centric as a Chrome machine, it seems you'd have to find some other cloud service to replace Google's.

Sound appealing? Well, stop holding your breath. About 75 minutes into the event, Pichai said that the first round of Chrome notebooks--from such vendors as Acer and Samsung--won't arrive in stores until mid-2011, at unannounced prices. "We haven't quite done the work yet" for such necessary items as USB device support, he said.

Google will, however, let developers and some curious users try out early versions of Chrome notebooks--with flash memory storage, 12.1-in. screens and an advertised eight hours of battery life, but without a Caps Lock key--sooner.

The presentation wrapped up with Google chief executive Eric Schmidt recapping the unsuccessful attempts of his earlier employer, Sun Microsystems, to build cloud-based hardware and software. He asked: "Why should you believe us now?" He answered: "We couldn't build great applications on the Web technologies of the time."

Now, he said, everything from broadband access to Web coding has caught up to Sun's vision, allowing Google to vie for a place alongside Microsoft Windows and Apple's Mac OS X: "With Chrome OS, we finally have a viable third choice."

Do you believe him? If you do, do you trust Google to deliver on that ideal?

(3:37 p.m. Corrected an incorrect description of Chrome sync and added details about Chrome OS not requiring a Google Account and the hardware specifications of prototype Chrome OS notebooks.)

By Rob Pegoraro  | December 7, 2010; 3:25 PM ET
Categories:  Computers, Security, The Web  | Tags:  Chrome Web Store, Google, Google Chrome  
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Too bad Mr. Schmidt ignored the proposal I sent to him months ago, or Google would unquestionably be numero uno and leave all the others in their dust. Sad that creative thought is dead in America when it comes to the "big boys".

Posted by: panamacanuck | December 8, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

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