Four things we expect from Google Chrome OS on Thursday, and one we don't

Google will offer a progress report on Chrome OS Thursday morning, but will the OS be released? Not likely

It's no secret that Google is holding a press conference Thursday morning in which the company promises a progress report on Chrome OS and to disclose 2010 launch details. Less clear is if we will actually get a beta of the new operating system or if the news will entail only a demo. Keep in mind that no one outside of Google has seen Chrome OS, and leaked screen shots of the OS in August appear to have been faked.

Google’s decision to turn heads towards its as-yet-imaginary OS on Thursday is not surprising given that Microsoft will be wrapping up its Professional Developer’s Conference in Los Angeles on Thursday, which starred news about its cloud computing platform, Windows Azure and new cloud management tools.

1. Chrome OS is expected to be a souped-up browser with a primary function of launching a browser for cloud-computing. This OS is expected to pretty much only support the launch of a browser for cloud computing, with some additional client-side functionality that allows users to access cloud apps even when disconnected from the cloud. Some expect it to use Google Gears, Google's browser add-on that makes cloud apps available offline. Cloud apps have to support Google Gears for it to work, and so far the list of those are mostly Google's own offerings, like Google Reader and Google Docs. But Zoho and mobile phone task list site, Remember the Milk, also use Gears.

2. Google says the OS will be targeted primarily at netbooks and other devices that sit somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop. It is expected to run on on X86 and ARM processors. Why Google felt it needed Chrome OS when Android had already begun venturing into this territory is a good question. At the time of the original Chrome OS announcement last summer, several netbook makers had demonstrated Android-based netbooks as alternatives to other Linux flavors or Windows XP. But, sadly, Chrome OS slowed that excitement train down, although both Acer and Lenovo have committed to producing Android netbooks. For instance, Dell demoed one but never really committing to it and hasn't gotten on the Chrome OS bandwagon either.

In the meantime, Google says that it has already signed on big name PC partners to support the new OS including Acer, ASUS, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, and Toshiba. Again, at least Acer and Lenovo are already working with Android.

3. The operating system is expected to be open source, but the role of developers is unclear. Will apps made for Android be easily supported by Chrome OS? Will the OS even need client side applications at all, or will it only access cloud apps? It has always been the apps that make the operating system. Is Chrome OS going to try and change that?

4. Integration with Google Wave, Google Talk and some of Google's other XMPP-based projects. Google has been mum on that -- and yet, why build your own cloud operating system if it isn't going to include your most exciting collaboration applications.

I'm curious if Google will be serious enough about Chrome to think about its customers needs for legacy applications. Will customers be able to run Windows, Mac, or even Linux apps on Chrome OS devices? Will they be able to access Windows cloud apps from it such as OfficeLive? I don't expect so and if not, then Chrome OS will be a plaything for the curious, but not of much interest to the customers with the real money -- the enterprise.

Also see Ex-Googler says Chrome OS will be a vastly different OS but won’t displace Windows

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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