Chrome OS launch coming in mid 2011, but Google starts pilot program now

Google offered a flood of news about its Chrome OS netbook operating system today, but it turns out that most consumers will have to wait until the middle of 2011 before they can buy a computer with Chrome OS installed.

Previous reports predicted a limited Chrome OS launch, perhaps with a Google-branded device coming at the end of this year, with a bigger release due in 2011. That’s close to what Google announced today.

Sundar Pichai, a vice president of product management at Google, said that the first Chrome OS devices will come from manufacturers Acer and Samsung in the middle of next year. In part, that’s because Google is still finalizing some of the features like CloudPrint (I’ll cover Chrome OS’ features in a separate post), Pichai said. At the same time, many of the company’s employees are already using Chrome OS netbooks, so Pichai said Google is going to make the software available to the public for testing.

The pilot program will use an unbranded netbook device from Google. It will have a 12.1-inch display, built-in 3G mobile Internet as well as WiFi, and will support more than eight hours of active use, Pichai said. But he added “the hardware only exists to test the software.” Google says it only has a limited numbers of devices, but you can apply for one at this website. There will be a separate business pilot program providing netbooks to companies like Virgin America.

It sounds like VentureBeat will be getting a test copy too, which we will of course post about. Try not to be too jealous.

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