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Google ChromeOS: It's basically a modified browser that runs web apps

Google ChromeOS
Google is holding a press event to talk about the upcoming Google Chrome Operating System. The company is not ready to release the OS yet, and won't actually have a finished product ready for another year. But Google announced that starting today the project is open source, which means that you can download the source code today.

So what exactly is Chrome OS? It's an operating system based on a web browser called... Google Chrome. The idea is that you won't have to (or be able to) install a single application directly on your PC. Rather, all of your apps will be run from the web and all of your data will be stored in the cloud.

That doesn't mean the computer won't be able to play games or interact with USB peripherals. For instance, Google demonstrated that you can plug in a camera and watch videos using a web-based video player or copy files to cloud-based storage. And because Google has been working to give web apps access to your PC's hardware, even video games with 3D graphics should be possible as long as you have a video card that's supported by ChromeOS.

The version of ChromeOS that Google demonstrated today is still a work in progress, and we were told that the user interface could change significantly before the final product is released. But the OS already boots in just 7 seconds, and Google says it takes another 3 seconds to launch applications.

The screenshot above shows an app menu that you can use to launch some web apps. You can create permanent shortcuts to these programs by "pinning" them to the ChromeOS toolbar. See those tiny tabs at the top? Those are pinned tabs.

There will also be persistent "panels" that pop up and stay on top even when you flip between browser tabs. For instance you can bring up a Google Talk panel, a music player, or a notepad.

ChromeOS will be automatically updated each day by connecting to the web and making sure that you have all the latest updates.

What do you think? Are you ready for an OS that's effectively useless without an internet connection? While the operating system stores some data on a local storage partition, Google says it's basically just a user cache area and that data will all be synced with the web. That means if you lose your netbook or buy a new one, you should be able to pick up where you left off without missing a beat.

Stay tuned for details. The news conference is still underway. In the meantime, you can check out a few more photos after the break.

Update: You will be able to perform some tasks while offline. For instance, you can cache movies, music, or eBooks and access them while you're on a plane. But the OS is primarily designed for interacting with web services.

Update 2: If you have absolutely no intention of picking up a machine with Google Chrome OS, there's good news: All of the new features that show up in Chrome OS will be able to work with the Google Chrome browser for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Tags: chromeos, google chrome, google-chrome, GoogleChrome, osupdates