Google unveils Chrome OS in pilot program, launches web applications store

Internet giant Google has finally announced more plans for its long-awaited Chrome operating system, with the company to distribute netbooks featuring the software as part of a pilot program, followed by commercial launches in mid-2011.

The company also announced the launch of the Chrome Web Store, which will allow users to purchase applications that can be integrated into the Chrome browser itself. An upgraded Maps layout for Android was also announced as well.

At a press event in San Francisco yesterday, Google launched its pilot program from the Chrome OS. While it was quick to warn attendants that the OS is not yet finished, it said that the software is at a point “where we need feedback from real users”.

“Some of the features of Chrome OS require new hardware, but we didn’t want to sell pre-beta computers. Instead we’re launching a pilot program where we will give test notebooks to qualified users, developers, schools and businesses,” the company said in a blog post.

Each netbook is purposely constructed to test the software, Google said. They are completely black, and have no branding whatsoever. Each features a 12.1-inch screen, touch pads, integrated 3G and eight hours of battery life.

But Google warns that Chrome is a work in progress, and that the pilot program “is not for the faint of heart… things might not always work just right”.

“The Pilot program is open to individuals, businesses, schools, non-profits and developers based in the United States.”

But other users will have a choice to try out Chrome as well – Samsung and Acer are set to release their own Chrome netbooks in 2011, although more details haven’t been released yet. It is understood those netbooks will be targeted towards the everyday user.

Google says its motivation to build the Chrome OS is that most people are spending their time on a web browser. The operating system itself appears exactly as the Chrome web browser does, but is really a control panel for the entire computer. Everything is handled through the cloud, and programs can be added through the Chrome store – which was launched yesterday as well.

“We think cloud computing will define computing as we know it,” chief executive Eric Schmidt said at the event yesterday. “Finally there is a viable third choice for an operating system.”

While the store is only available to US customers now, international purchases will be made available early next year. And Google is expecting a big response, with Chrome counting over 120 million users just two years after launching.

Already some high-profile apps are present on the store, including programs such as TweetDeck, a New York Times viewer and a program from Amazon. Several of these programs are derived from their popular Android and iPhone versions as well.

Google says the availability of these types of apps will prompt more people to try out the Chrome OS when it becomes available later next year.

“Chrome notebooks are designed to reach the web instantly, are easy to share among friends and family, and simply by logging in, all of your apps, bookmarks and other browser settings are there. Setting up a new machine takes less than a minute. And even at this early stage, we feel there is no consumer or business operating system that is more secure.”

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