Google makes business case with Chrome OS preview

With the computer industry increasingly moving toward tablet PCs, Google Inc. spent Tuesday afternoon unveiling details about a forthcoming line of Chrome OS-enabled notebooks which it said will hit the global market in mid-2011.

The Chrome team, which previously promised Chrome OS-based devices before the end of 2010, said Acer and Samsung will be the first vendors to offer notebooks using the new operating system. The company also kicked off a Chrome OS pilot program, called Cr-48, aimed at getting Google’s new OS into the hands of businesses and consumers.

As part of the program, users will receive an unbranded, 12.1-inch laptop featuring a full-sized keyboard, oversized clickable touchpad and a Web cam. The device will contain no hard drive or spinning disk and has a jail breaking option built-in.

The company is inviting U.S. users to apply for the pilot program at, with no word yet on when Canada or other countries will be asked to help test the product.

Google said organizations participating in the pilot include American Airlines, Virgin America, Logitech, Intercontinental Hotels, and one portion of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Sundar Pichai, vice-president of product management for Google’s Chrome team, said many of these businesses have large call centres with service staff that use complex PCs to run software they should be running in a “cloud computing-optimized device.”

“Just like we offer Google Apps for enterprises, you can imagine that we’ll offer Google Chrome OS for enterprise,” he said.

As part of its Google OS update, Pichai demoed the new OS at a media event in San Francisco. For businesses, he emphasized the fact that Chrome will always encrypt user data and seamlessly upgrade users to the latest build automatically.

Devices will also come with a “guest mode” that will allow any user to log in to the OS and run a private session where no browsing data is stored.

Another feature, called verified boot, will scan a machine upon launch and revert back to a known “good backup” copy for the machine if any software has been maliciously altered.

“We’re very confident that this will be the most secure OS that has ever been shipped to users,” said Pichai.

As for what caused the delay of these devices until mid-2011, Pichai said Google was still working to improve support for cameras and USB devices. He also said the team was looking to iron out problems with its cloud printing service, which remains in beta mode.

Other features include “instant boot,” which is designed to lets users sign-in and boot up a notebook within 60 seconds of taking it out of the box; and an easy syncing feature which ties all of a user’s browsing experience and apps to their specific log-in information.

Citrix Systems Inc. was also on hand at the event to show how Citrix Receiver could be used to boot up SAP AG or Microsoft Corp.-based business apps through Chrome OS even faster than they launch on Windows or Mac OS-based machines.

Gordon Payne, a senior vice-president at Citrix, said his company’s remote app tool will be available on Chrome OS upon launch and will let users choose and instantly launch any apps from their enterprise’s cloud.

In his demonstration, Payne launched Citrix Receiver for Chrome OS, doubled-clicked the Microsoft Excel icon and booted the program almost instantly.

“Excel doesn’t launch that fast on a PC,” he added.
In addition to the Chrome OS update, Google also announced the launch of its Google Chrome Web Store.

The online store, which will contain news apps, games and other programs, is geared at users looking for a more streamlined experience when tracking down Web apps. It is also intended to connect smaller, independent developers with end users who might be wary about purchasing for relatively unknown Web sites.

Apple Inc. is expected to launch a similar service soon, as is Mozilla, which said Monday that its cross-browser Open Web App Ecosystem would launch in the first quarter of 2011.

Google’s Chrome store will launch with about 500 apps, but the company expects that number to grow significantly in the near future as it expands beyond its initial partner base.

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