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Google Improves Chrome OS and Announces New Hardware Products

Google announced some Chrome OS improvements on Tuesday, along with expanded Chromebook products that could pose a challenge the traditional PC model.

A Chromebook is a laptop mostly aimed at the consumer market. It only runs Google's operating system and connects to Web applications stored in the Internet cloud. Google's Chromebooks were first launched on June 15, 2011, but the company has released "eight stable updates over the past year" to the cloud-based OS, according to a recent Google blog post. Because of an automatic update capability in Chromebooks, Google claims that the laptops are "always new."

Today, Google's partner Samsung announced that it is offering its latest Series 5 550 Chromebook laptop, as well as the Series 3 Chromebox. The Chromebox is a new way to run Google Chrome OS via a portable box-like device that has connections for a keyboard, mouse and monitor. Acer is another Google hardware partner offering a Chromebook, with the Acer AC700 laptop being currently available.

In addition, Google announced yesterday that Chromebooks and the new Chromebox devices can be ordered through certain U.S. and U.K. online retail partners. Those outlets include Best Buy stores in the United States and PC World and Curry stores in the United Kingdom, with other outlets to come in "select countries." As for online outlets, Samsung's U.S. announcement indicated that the "Chromebook and Chromebox are only available at Amazon.com, Tiger.com, NewEgg.com, BestBuy.com and BHPhoto.com."

The Samsung Chromebook and Chromebox both use Intel Celeron 867 Dual Core processors with 1.3 GHz clock speeds and 4 GB of RAM. Google claims that the new Chrome OS-based devices using Intel's Core processors "are nearly three times as fast as the first-generation Chromebooks." Chromebooks are available for either 3G or Wi-Fi wireless access, but the Chromebox only supports Wi-Fi access. The 16 GB storage space available in the devices is minimal because users don't install programs on the devices. Rather, they access Web apps stored remotely. The products use solid-state drives that facilitate boot times of about seven seconds. Google supports a unique keyboard with Chrome OS-based devices, as well as a touchpad with gesture capabilities.

Google said that it added a new user interface in the latest Chrome OS, which looks a lot like a pinned-sites browser model in which applications are launched from the bottom of the screen. Google also announced a new Chrome Remote Desktop beta that promises to allow Chromebook or Chromebox users to connect with their PCs or Macs. The Remote Desktop service can be used for remote access to files or for ad hoc support, according to Google's description.

Chrome OS does come with some assumptions. Users of the devices are expected to have access to either 3G or Wi-Fi wireless service to access many applications. However, some Web apps will work offline without a connection, as listed here at the Chrome Web Store.

Google's Chrome OS poses some challenges to the traditional OS-centric models adopted by Microsoft and Apple -- at least in the consumer-oriented personal computing world. For instance, with nothing to install, Google promises greater security from malware. Google claims that antivirus software isn't needed on Chromebooks. The firmware on a Chromebook will verify the boot process and the machine can be restored to its last known good state. Data are encrypted and can be accessed anywhere a user can sign into an account. Still, Google's approach is not all unique. The use of app stores and software as a service has become commonplace in the industry.

Additional Chrome OS capabilities can be expected in the near future, according to Google. The company plans to integrate the file manager in Chrome OS with Google Drive, which is Google's new cloud-based data storage service that was announced in April. Another addition to Chrome OS will be offline support for Google Docs, which is Google's hosted productivity suite. That offline support is planned for a rollout "over the next few weeks."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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