Netbooks with Google’s Chrome OS operating system won’t be available to most consumers until the middle of next year, but company executives walked through many of the features at a press event today, where they also announced a pilot program using unbranded netbooks.

I’m finally starting to understand why someone would buy one of these devices. Most of the discussion until now has been at a theoretical level, focusing on the idea of an operating system that exists almost entirely online — which sounds exciting but doesn’t necessarily translate to a must-buy for consumers.

Instead of summarizing the entire demo, I’m going to point out the three things that stood out for me as a consumer:

  • Chrome OS is fast. This is something Google has been talking about for a while, but today the company gave a real taste of how fast Chrome OS devices can be. When you first set one up, you can get up-and-running in just 60 seconds (because it’s using Google account data that you’ve entered elsewhere), rather than the much longer install and set-up process on a normal computer. Google vice president of product management Sudar Pichai closed the netbook, allowing it to go to sleep, then when he opened it everything was working again within a second.And because most of the software is running online, rather than on local hardware, Google claims the computer won’t lose speed over time. Pichai said, “We want to deliver this experience where the computer forever feels new.”
  • Chrome OS means you can access your applications and data on any device. Since Chrome OS is, in Pichai’s words, “nothing but the Web,” it doesn’t seem to be unlocking any cloud capabilities that you couldn’t already use with Google’s Chrome Web browser. However, using a Chrome device really forces you into that online lifestyle. All of your apps and your files are stored online, because you literally can’t install them on your computer. When you need to access your stuff on another device, or if you lose your old computer, that won’t be a problem.Pichai demonstrated a Chrome OS device and a Windows PC, both open to a page listing the Chrome apps that he had installed. He uninstalled an app on the Chrome device, and the change was instantly reflected on the Windows device.
  • Chrome OS devices are always connected to the Internet. Besides using WiFi, Google said today that Chrome netbooks will be connected to Verizon’s data network. You’ll get 100 megabytes free very month, and after that plans start at $9.99 per month. (The price for the actual computers hasn’t been announced yet.) There’s no contract or long-term commitment.In comparison, I currently use a Verizon 3G card to connect my laptop to the Internet, and it costs $60 a month, comes with a two-year contract, and I’ve already lost the card twice.


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