Google’s Chrome OS: What to Expect at Launch

Tomorrow, Google (s goog) is holding a Chrome event, where it’s likely we’ll see the official launch of the first Google Chrome OS device, and a supporting web app store. Chrome OS was first introduced as a browser-based platform for netbooks in November of 2009, with a target launch by the end of 2010. The mobile market has changed much since then, but Google seems unwavering in its plans to tackle the computer market with an operating system of its own.

Google isn’t blind to the current situation though: it knows that tablets, handsets and smartphones are hotter now than netbooks were when Chrome OS was announced. More than 340 million mobile phones were sold globally in just the third quarter of this year, for example. Compare that to Gartner’s recent estimate of 352.4 million computers sold around the globe in all of 2010, and it’s not surprising that potential demand for a small Chrome OS computer, or any netbook, for that matter, is lower now than it was a year ago.  As a result, I suspect we’ll hear that Google has been using Chrome OS devices in-house and that Chrome OS consumer devices may launch early next year from a number of hardware partners. Here’s a recap of what to expect from these devices:

  • A netbook without Windows (s msft) — You won’t find Microsoft Windows on a Chrome OS computer. Instead, it’s a Linux kernel under the hood with a customized version of Google’s Chrome browser as the entire interface.
  • Google Apps at the core — Google’s web-based applications are prominent throughout, even at the time of sign-in, which requires a Google account. Docs, Calendar, Gmail, Search, Google Talk and more are all integrated into the platform.
  • Web App Store — Likely to launch with Chrome OS devices is an online store for web apps, so you can add third-party software based on web standards such as HTML5 and JavaScript.
  • A mobile processor —  Just like the majority of netbooks available on the market today, Chrome OS computers can run on Intel’s Atom (s intc) chipset, although they can also run on low-p0wered chips built from the ARM (s armh) architecture, currently used in many smartphones and tablets.
  • No hard drive — In lieu of a spinning hard drive, Google is looking to use solid state disks, or flash memory for all local storage, much like Apple’s new Mac Book Air (s aapl). That configuration, combined with a light operating system should allow for Chrome OS to boot in roughly five seconds or less.
  • Connectivity will be key — While I expect some offline functionality in Chrome OS, the device’s primary use case is being connected, most likely to a Wi-Fi network, although support for mobile broadband is a safe bet for future iterations.

Since Google set the stage for Chrome OS more than a year ago, it may actually be more interesting tomorrow to hear about the target audience for the devices. With more alternatives to netbooks today than at this time last year — including a solid smartphone and tablet platform in Android, which just improved with the release of its Gingerbread version today — Chrome OS could be aimed less at consumers (at least initially) and more towards the mobile enterprise.

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