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Google's Cloud Print in action  (Source: WebSonic.nl)

Google's 12.1-inch Cr-48 Chrome OS netbook is not for commercial release. It is being used by internal, corporate, and public beta testers.   (Source: Linux Devices)

Chrome wants you to test its Chrome OS notebook!
Want to test drive a Chrome notebook? -- apply for free!

Google delayed the commercial release of its Chrome operating system (not to be confused with the Chrome Browser) a bit to perfect the upcoming netbook and light-notebook OS, but that doesn't mean that it's resting on its laurels.  The company spilled a ton of details at a special press event in San Francisco, California, including news of an upcoming Chrome notebook test drive program.

It even had "sharks with frickin lasers."

Chrome - Becoming a Superbrowser?

At the event, hot on the tails of the release of its Chrome 8 browser, Google bragged that its Chrome browser user base had reached 120 million customers (way up from just a year ago).  As Chrome OS is built around the Chrome browser, it is imperative to Google to make the browser as fast, flexible, and powerful as possible.  

Google made it clear that while Chrome may be doing well, it still isn't satisfied with performance.  To better its browser, it announced two key technologies.

The first uses a technique called adaptive Javascript compiling.  Google dubs this effort Crankshaft.  Basically, typical interpreted Javascript code is like telling someone who speaks a foreign language instructions via a translator -- it takes longer to get stuff done.  So just-in-time (JIT) compilation came along.  To borrow the previous analogy, that'd be like first learning the foreign language (machine code) words for your tasks and then using those, instead of the translator, whenever it was needed. 

But the best approach is to mix the interpreter and the JIT compilation as necessary.  For uncommon tasks, the interpreter is used.  For common tasks the JIT compiler is employed.  And the system learns and adapts to your actions over time to figure out which to do as which -- hence adaptive compilation.

The second key technology is WebGL.  The internet companion to OpenGL, WebGL does exactly what you programmers might imagine -- provide 3D graphics within a browser.  In a demo Google showed off a feisty 3D aquarium populated with sharks that, yes, had 
laser beams attached to their foreheads, which they happily fired away.

So with WebGL, Google can make sure that its Chrome operating system can at least provide the kind of gaming experiences that users enjoy today on the iPhone -- including those of a 3D flavor.

Chrome OS: The Department of Printing, Syncing, Sales, and Security

Like Android, Chrome OS is a highly customized Linux distribution.  The source code is currently available to developers, but exact details about the company's full hardware and software vision have been lacking.  Google also filled in some of those blanks, detailing the critical advances to be featured the release Chrome OS hardware/software.  

To start it revealed more details on its Google Cloud Print scheme.  Basically Cloud Print lets you connect a printer by clicking a widget within your Chrome browser.  How did it do that considering those printers require all sorts of drivers?  Well, the magic is that Google stores all the drivers online.

The service already has a live landing page here and is expected to begin being rolled out to the dev channel of the Chrome browser.

Another crucial feature of Chrome OS will be syncing.  With syncing, Google will store on the cloud critical info, such as bookmarks, launchers, themes, and extensions.  Your data is tied to your account, meaning that if you use a Chrome OS computer at home, you can sign in a Chrome OS computer at work and be greeted by the same environment (if you want).

Perhaps the most important on the Chrome OS features fleshed out on Tuesday was Web Store, the in-browser equivalent to Android Marketplace or Apple's App Store.  The apps are powered primarily by a mix of Javascript and HTML5.  Chrome Web Store is now live, and you can check it out for yourself from a Chrome 8 browser.

Defying some people's expectations, the store does not 
only feature internet apps, but also web pages.  Thus much of the initial content is vanilla web sites, and not the slick web programs that one might hope for.  This could be a slipping point for Google as it may become hard to weed actual apps out from the ones that are just web sites.

Still, there are some promising early apps like the Gilt shopping app and the ESPN sports photo viewer.  These apps look and feel like an iPad app, in that they have a polish UI and attractive graphics.  

Google VP Linus Upson says that Google doesn't plan on making any money off the store; Google's cut of revenue from paid apps will just go towards covering costs, with developers getting the rest.  And Google is giving developers plenty of ways to get additional revenue, in addition to direct purchase costs.  Like with iOS developers can place in-app ads (Google driven, of course), can offer subscriptions, or add in-app purchases.

A final note on apps -- while basic word processing, image editing, and music apps are expected to be readily available, some users may lust for the ability to run Windows apps on Chrome.  To that end Google has paired with Citrix to produce Citrix Receiver for Chrome OS.  The receiver app will act as a virtual machine, allowing users to run Windows apps, such as Microsoft Office or sales software.

The issue of apps and security go somewhat hand in hand.  As all apps will run in the browser, Google's first line of defense in Chrome OS will be sandboxing each of the running apps, which Chrome handles similarly to the sandboxing of website tabs.  And all user data stored locally on the machine (e.g. documents and mp3s) are automatically encrypted.

Software security only goes so far, though, so Google has implemented a special hardware upgrade to make sure its system is super secure.  Using a technology called Verified Boot, when you turn on your Chrome OS computer, it will first read from a special read-only chip.  The chip works with an algorithm to check the signatures of all the "pieces" of Chrome OS including apps and stored files.  In doing so it makes sure that your system wasn't compromised by a crafty piece of malware that escaped the sandbox.

Do YOU Want to Test Chrome OS?

The bulk of Google's early testing will be accomplished via corporate partnerships.  Apparently the corporate world is very keen on Google's vision of super-secure browser driven computing, especially now that Windows app accessibility has been added.  

Google has already has lined up a number of volunteers for its beta testing program -- American Airlines, Virgin America, Cardinal Health, Appirio, Logitech, and the U.S. Department of Defense.  

Speaking of beta testing, that was probably the biggest news at the event.  While the source code for Chrome OS has been freely available for about a year, Google is preparing to give business and personal users the chance to try actual beta Chrome OS 
hardware.  Google's thousands of employees have been test driving the device for the last couple months.  And as mentioned, that test program will soon expand to encompass a slew of high profile business users.  And last, but not least, it hopes that you will test out its hardware.

Testers get a special notebook called the Cr-48.  The device was designed by an unnamed manufacturer and is not intended to be sold as an actual release product -- its sole purpose is to test and fine-tune the Chrome OS experience.

It sports a 12.1-inch screen, a full-sized keyboard with some tweaks (e.g. the caps lock key has been shifted and replaced by an Android-esque search button).  Google says there is no built-in disc drive, though it may be possible to connect an external disc drive or SD card reader via the single external USB port that was shown in the demo model (or it's possible that this port can only be used for USB mice).  

The notebook is powered by an Intel processor, features built in 802.11n Wi-Fi 3G, sports 3G connectivity via a Qualcomm modem, and weighs 3.8 lbs.  It boots in an impressive 10 seconds, and resumes from sleep "instantly" (perhaps Google is beta testing bending the laws of physics).  The battery life is approximately 8 hours, with 8 days of standby.

Want to jailbreak the laptop?  Unlike Apple who has conducted an infamous war with jailbreaking customers and developers, Google is actually 
providing a special switch on the Cr-48, which will put it into jailbroken mode.  This will allow developers the ability to load any additional software necessary to test their programs.

So, do you want to try out the Cr-48 and Chrome OS?

If you're older than 18 and live in the U.S., you can apply here.  There's also word that there may be a YouTube video contest, details of which should pop up here.

Chrome OS: Launching Mid-2011

Oh, Google also happened to mention a new launch date for the operating system.  The list of launch partners has transfigured from Acer, ASUS, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, and Toshiba to just Acer and Samsung.  Google says that Acer and Samsung will launch Chrome OS netbooks and notebooks in mid-2011  It mentioned that other OEMs should soon follow with Chrome OS products of their own -- OEMs which likely include the missing members of the initial lineup.

The good news for potential buyers is that Google has worked out a special deal for wireless connectivity with Verizon.  Chrome OS users will get 100 MB of free LTE data a month, to supplement whatever Wi-Fi connectivity they find.

While Google showed offline versions of some of its apps, the OS is built with the mindset that you're web connected, so good wireless connectivity is a must.  Wi-Fi with sparing use of 3G provides users with the most affordable option to that end.  But Google is making sure that users can purchase services from Verizon without having to sign up for a contract.  Services can be purchased on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.  For example, if a user knows they have a high-traffic day away from Wi-Fi, they can buy a day of presumably unlimited usage from Verizon for $9.99.

Overall this deal seems pretty good, between the no-contracts and the inclusion of a small amount of free monthly 3G data.

Expect more details on precise hardware launch dates and the data plan as we roll into 2011.



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RE: Interesting
By LordanSS on 12/8/2010 10:16:54 AM , Rating: 2
This is an honest question...

By using AdBlock Plus and NoScript, shouldn't these data-giving things be avoided? At least, every time I go to a webpage, my NoScript blocks access to Google-analytics (and a whole bunch of other stuff).

So...?


RE: Interesting
By kingius on 12/8/2010 10:36:14 AM , Rating: 3
The difference is that when all of the data on your computer resides not on your hard drive, but their servers, that they can scan it on their end and no browser plugin will stop the profiling. All a browser plugin could do would be to prevent you from seeing the resulting ads that their system generated; they'd still be collecting data on you and monetising it by selling it to third parties. They'd also be able to customise your search results based on the analysis which no browser plugin would be able to detect. This is because it would all happen on their end, not yours.


RE: Interesting
By Cheesew1z69 on 12/8/2010 7:35:56 PM , Rating: 2
Good thing this isn't happening then eh....and most likely not for a very long time...


RE: Interesting
By kingius on 12/9/2010 10:23:27 AM , Rating: 2
It depends on your definition of 'very long time'. We're looking at time frames of within ten years that it could be the norm.


RE: Interesting
By Cheesew1z69 on 12/9/2010 9:06:22 PM , Rating: 2
Local storage is not going away anytime soon, and i surely doubt within 10 years....


"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." -- Robert Heinlein














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