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Google polishes Chrome into netbook OS

The sound of Ballmer hurling a thousand chairs

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Google is releasing an operating system for laptops and desktops, in a direct challenge to Microsoft's money-making core business.

The company will also encourage developers to get on board by allowing them to use ordinary web development tools with the OS rather than a specialised development kit. Much of the success of the iPhone has been thanks to the thousands of developers keen to create applications for it.

The operating system is based on Google's Chrome browser and will first appear on netbooks in the second half of 2010. Google said it s already talking to netbook manufacturers and will open-source the software later this year.

Google Chrome OS, as it is currently known, promises to be quick to boot up and secure. It will run on x86 and ARM chips.

On the Google blog, Sundar Pichai, VP product management and Linus Upson, engineering director, emphasise that Chrome OS is different from Android - the search giant's OS for mobile phones:

"We hear a lot from our users and their message is clear — computers need to get better. People want to get to their email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up. They want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them. They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files.Even more importantly, they don't want to spend hours configuring their computers to work with every new piece of hardware, or have to worry about constant software updates. And any time our users have a better computing experience, Google benefits as well by having happier users who are more likely to spend time on the Internet.

Google will also benefit from tying in a lot of users from the point at which they purchase a machine, not just from when they start using its web applications.

Netbooks, Google's initial target market, have been less successful for Linux than many open source advocates had originally hoped. A cut-down version of Microsoft's Windows XP is currently the dominant operating system for this PC form factor.

Many companies have tried to muscle in on Microsoft's home turf of desktop and laptop operating systems, ever since the company first sewed the market up. And none have succeeded. But then none have had the muscle or money of Google nor have they had its central position in web services to use as a foot in the door. And Google has shown, with Android and the handset manufacturers, that it can establish strong beachheads, where others have failed.

Just as interesting will be the response of Microsoft, once Steve Ballmer has calmed down. The firm's recent problems with Vista and the fact that Windows 7 is all but out the door may limit its ability to react quickly to this new challenge. ®

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