Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010.
Timing is everything in this business. Tech trends are like surfing, where you can hit the wave too early or too late.
In terms of Netbooks like my HP Mini, this looks late.
A mainstream OS has to make it in the channel. It has to be available at Fry's. And, to repeat, there is a price lower than free.
Netbooks are different from laptops of any weight in that they have no moving parts. Like phones, they're just chips and a screen. CompuTex showed that storage will no longer be a limitation on Netbooks, with units holding 64 GBytes of chip storage available this Christmas for a price of around $300.
Once we get past that main criteria -- no moving parts -- what else should a Netbook have and do?
It needs to look for network access immediately, on start-up.
I want a usable keyboard (yeah HP) and a usable mouse (boo HP).
It must sync with online resources, and through them with your handheld.
The main difference between a Netbook and a phone is the position of the user. You use a Netbook seated. You use a phone standing up. Beyond those interface issues they should be the same thing, and the Internet is the glue that makes this possible.
My iPhone shows me what's possible, and how far we have to go in getting there. I can sync my contacts, but I can't yet sync my calendar. I should also be able to sync my music, my settings, all forms of messaging, and basic online data like my stock list, maps, and notes.
(Oh, if Apple would do a Netbook OS.)
If Chrome OS can do all this, and get into mainstream distribution channels, it can do well. Frankly Windows is not suited to Netbooks because it's a memory hog, it takes too long to boot, it requires expensive add-ons (especially for security), and the cost is way out of line with that of the hardware.
But some work still needs to be done on the Chrome browser itself. It does crash, still. I often find it hard to change pages within tabs -- I have to hit the enter button repeatedly and hard.
Google enters this market fight with serious open source street cred and an online lead. But that may not be enough.