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A Google operating system, called Google Chrome OS, is on the way, the web giant announced last night. The open-source operating system will be an extension of the Chrome browser and will initially be targeted at netbooks. The first devices running the Chrome OS will be released in the second half of 2010, Google says.

The new operating system isn’t just Windows-by-Google. It’s Google’s answer to the question of how the Internet and the desktop ought to relate. Technology has come a long way from when the browser was just another desktop application and Google has worked hard to encourage the use of Web applications, creating, for example, Google Docs, which emphasizes the ease of collaboration. Technologies such as Google Gears allow Web applications to run even offline, bringing them back to the desktop.

With Chrome OS, the company unveils a vision of the computer and the Internet being one and the same. Google believes this will solve many of the problems that consumers have with their computers today. The post on Chrome OS says:

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. 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.

Google’s plan seems to be to address these issues removing much of what currently resides below the browser. A computer can continue to run quickly, for example, if it’s not weighted down by more installed applications and stored files.

I’m fascinated in particular by the mention of configuring hardware. There are a lot of drivers out there to make devices work with Microsoft Windows, while Apple deals with this issue by maintaining fanatic control over the devices that connect to its operating system. Google seems to be suggesting that the Web could become the link between a user’s computer and other devices.

This is right on trend. Two weeks ago, for example, HP announced the Photosmart Premium with TouchSmart Web, an Internet-connected printer that can access Websites directly through applications. I can imagine how Internet-connected devices could lighten the load on the operating system a great deal, allowing the user to interact with them through Web pages. There would certainly be issues with security, but I think this is the direction that would allow a stripped-down operating system focused on the Web to really take off.

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Tagged: Web, Google, web applications, operating systems, Google Chrome OS

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