Google's new Chrome OS Chromebooks may not debut till June, but the souped-up software that'll power the PCs is starting to show up already.
Google rolled out an updated build of Chrome OS to its Cr-48 test notebooks over the weekend. The build introduces a refreshed design and also includes some of the new features discussed at Google's I/O developers' conference last week.
The first noticeable change in the updated Chrome OS is the login screen: In place of the previous default user avatar -- a dull gray silhouette -- the operating system now assigns one of several new colorful symbols. The new avatars can be accessed and changed within the user settings section.
The system's top status bar appears to have a subtly refined look as well, with softer text and graphics.
Beyond the aesthetical tweaks, the new Chrome OS file manager is now up and running on the Cr-48. When you download a file or plug in a USB device, as Google described last week, the file manager automatically appears and allows you to deal with the data. You can view files or upload them directly to various cloud-based storage sites, if you have the appropriate add-ons installed.
Working with files in general now seems to be much more user-friendly. With early Chrome OS releases, finding files and figuring out how to handle them was anything but easy. The process has definitely been simplified, with one catch-all local folder called "File Shelf" and another labeled "External Storage."
The newly discussed Chrome OS media player is present, too: Double-click on an audio or video file -- from your external storage, for example -- and the file immediately starts playing. A pop-out window at the bottom of your screen allows you to control the playback.
Now, it's worth noting that Google does send out Chrome OS updates quite regularly, so what we're seeing on the Cr-48 right now may or may not be the launch-ready version that'll ship on the upcoming Chromebooks. But it's certainly close to it -- much more so than anything we've seen before.
The first commercial Chrome OS Chromebooks hit stores on June 15. For a detailed tour of the devices, check out my first look here.
Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.