Google Chrome OS: A simple FAQ

Everyone's all a-twitter over Google's newly announced operating system, Google Chrome OS. Some swear it'll be a hit; others are convinced it's destined for failure. Love it or hate it, though, this puppy's one tough piece of software to ignore.

So what's Chrome OS all about, and what could do it for you? Here are some answers.

What is Google Chrome OS?

Google Chrome OS is a lightweight, cloud-based operating system demonstrated by Google for the first time this week.

How's it different from Windows 7?

Well, it won't feature any launch parties, to start (at least, as far as we know). But the primary difference is that Google Chrome OS is designed to operate entirely off of the Internet. That means you won't store data or run programs on the computer itself; rather, everything will Web-driven.

So, what's the advantage?

Speed is one big plus: Because of the cloud-based configuration, Chrome OS can boot within as little as three seconds. That instant-on capability is a large reason why Google describes the Chrome OS experience as more like using a TV than using a computer: You press a button, and seconds later, you're doing your thing.

Security is another expected advantage. Since you aren't storing data or running applications locally, the odds of contracting a virus are significantly reduced. In fact, the Chrome OS won't even allow applications to make changes to the operating system if they want to -- and, on top of that, the OS will continually update itself and correct any corrupted modules automatically. The critical pieces of the OS will also be stored in read-only memory.

Do you actually save any data locally?

Not much. Chrome OS will store a small amount of data locally, such as your system preferences. Even that data will be encrypted, though -- and synched with an online storage center, too. The idea, as Google explains it, is that you could lose your Chrome OS system, go get another one, and have everything back exactly the way it was within a matter of seconds.

Will you be able to work offline?

Kinda-sorta-maybe, a little. Since Google Chrome OS runs cloud-based applications, your options will be limited when you aren't connected. Developers, however, may be able to build in a small amount of offline functionality for their programs.

What's the Chrome OS interface like?

No big surprise here: It's just like the interface of the Chrome browser. All of your applications run in tabs, and all of the tabs reside in windows. You can drag and drop tabs between windows at will. And there's a permanent tab called the application menu that shows you new and noteworthy apps for your system.

Want a closer look? Check out this Chrome OS visual tour.

Will you be able to run any program?

Technically, any Web-based application will work, so long as it's able to operate in a standards-compliant browser. Even Microsoft's Office Live will run on a Chrome OS computer -- in fact, it's the software's default program for opening files such as Excel documents.

Does that mean you couldn't install your own browser, like Firefox?

More or less. Chrome is the default browser in the Chrome OS, and you can't install software onto a Chrome OS system. The only way around it would be if a developer such as Mozilla were to take Google's open source code, create its own version of the Chrome operating system, and then sell its own Chrome OS devices with the Firefox browser built in.

What about Android apps -- can you run those?

Nope. Google says its Chrome OS will not run Android-specific applications, since they have to be downloaded to a device to work.

What kind of computers will run Google Chrome OS?

Google Chrome OS will run on netbooks and mobile tablets (the ones that actually exist, anyway). They'll be fairly scaled-down systems, since they won't need much functionality besides USB and Wi-Fi. Google is already working with manufacturers to come up with a list of hardware components that'll be allowed within the Chrome OS machines. Some of the early specifications include solid states disks (no hard drives) and full-sized keyboards.

Would Chrome OS replace your current computer?

Probably not. Chrome OS will provide more of a companion device -- after all, you won't be able to run complex programs not available on the cloud, nor will you necessarily be able to use advanced peripheral devices.

When will the Chrome OS computers be available?

Google expects to have Chrome OS systems on the market late next year, in time for the holiday season.

Can you try Chrome OS out any sooner?

Why, sure, as long as you're up for an adventure. Since the code is completely open source, you can get your hands on it right now. But since it won't run on just any computer, you'll have to set up a virtual machine to make it work. Read through this handy guide if you're brave enough to give it a whirl. Just make sure you know what you're doing.

How many golf balls can you fit in a school bus?

Uh, sorry, buddy -- wrong story. That's one of Google's interview questions. If you figure it out, though, let me know.

JR Raphael is co-founder of geek-humor site eSarcasm. You can keep up with him on Twitter: @jr_raphael.

This story, "Google Chrome OS: A simple FAQ" was originally published by PCWorld .

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