"Chrome OS is ideal for ‘smartbooks’ and will lead consumers further into cloud computing," says Canalys in its recent Notebook Pulse Report.

Google unveiled its Chrome operating system, making the source code available to developers and enabling them to assist in the project a year before Chrome OS is due for public release.

“Speculation about Chrome OS and its impact on the PC industry has been rife since Google first announced it was working on the project in July. The announcement goes some way to address some of the questions that have since surrounded the OS,” says Canalys.

Google has provided information on its initial use cases for devices running Chrome OS in documentation released on the platform. Canalys thinks it suggests that Chrome will suit secondary devices for ‘couch computing’, devices that are shared among family members, and those used in coffee shops.

“To all intents and purposes, Chrome OS is an expansion of Google’s Chrome browser. All applications running on Chrome OS will be web applications that run from within a browser window.”

But there are additional features that extend the functionality beyond that of a standard web browser. The addition of persistent windows, called ‘panels’, enables developers to create simple applications that can float on top of the browser window or be minimised when not needed.

Two usage cases of panels that Google has so far demonstrated were an instant messaging client and a window for playing media. According to the analysts, another aspect of Chrome OS that Google is keen to promote is its security.

“If the OS has been compromised, it is able to repair itself using its verified boot process. If the OS detects any changes to the system on start-up it will automatically initiate a recovery process that will replace the OS with the latest available version,” the report says.

As Chrome users cannot install native applications, Chrome will not require additional security software. “Instead, Google will take responsibility for securing Chrome OS, possibly extending protection technologies from the Postini acquisition to protect Chrome users before threats reach the devices.”

Chrome OS stores all of a user’s personal data in the cloud, so that if a chrome OS device is lost or stolen, personal data is not compromised and remains permanently backed up.

Canalys says, as usual, concerns will remain regarding the storage of personal data with an advertising company. “A further concern is that Chrome’s lack of local data storage and limited offline functionality will make it largely unusable without an Internet connection.”

Canalys therefore expects that devices running chrome OS will be bundled with mobile data contracts, and support for ARM-based processors will make it an ideal ‘smartbook’ OS.

Analysts say the fact that the OS is not intended for offline use comes as no great surprise. “After all, unconnected users cannot access Google’s services or be reached by Google’s advertising.”

“Though much could change between now and Chrome’s release in 2010, it is clear that, at present, the OS is not intended as a replacement for Windows or any other fully functional OS.”

According to the report, one thing is clear: “However, Chrome OS will be the next step in bringing consumers further into the world of cloud computing, a world where Google provides many applications and most of which are free.”

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