Google (newssite) has finally unveiled a preview version of its netbook operating system. Will its "big bet" on the future of the PC pay off?

See You Next Year...

We were looking forward to the launch of Chrome OS earlier in the week. In a year of cracking product launches, could this top them all? Umm, no! It came as a shock to see a Summer 2011 release date for Google and partners Chrome OS-powered netbooks. In the interim, there is a beta test where some 60,000 lucky users will get to try the hardware/OS combo.

The big launch consists of three parts -- the operating system, the hardware and the app store. Google unveiled each component with some interesting, but not ground breaking twists. What we did see, was the Chrome browser take over of the whole desktop space.

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Welcome to the future, maybe?

As for the operating system itself, the offering seems pretty basic, as you'd expect from a web-centric system. You can log on or let a friend use the guest account, and then choose from your neat grid of bookmarks where to go.

As there is no need to launch a browser, you are online immediately and can download apps to run locally or rush straight for your cloud services and data. If you've used Chrome before then you'll be perfectly at home. Among the snippets Google did show were speedy PDF reading, Excel working via the cloud and other business-pleasing features. 

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Get to your web favorites, fast

Get Your Apps

Apps will come from the Chrome App Store, which has now gone live. Anyone who wants to give it a go will need to use the Chrome Browser to reap the benefits, but developers now have a chance to start packing the shelves with utilities and other goodies before the launch.

Some lead apps include a New York Times browser for Chrome, media service Grooveshark and even a Drupal for Chrome app -- although its pretty old looking and very alpha. They show off all the games, -- both free and paid-for -- and app connectivity you would expect. Some apps will work offline too, in case you're worried about sucking up data. 

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Hardware To Go

The netbook hardware that Chrome OS runs on was always planned to be lightweight, but the press shots give little to no detail. Intel, Asus and Samsung are listed as partners, but the current images look strictly mock-up.

What you will get is a cell connection, offering limited free Web access (100MB of data a month for two years) with various plans via Verizon for heavier data users. There is also little news on what devices you will be able to plug in and what USB/additional storage will be like, among many other questions. Basically, for a partial hardware launch, there was very little hardware on show.

Printing and other tasks may be somewhere else that Chrome OS falls down on. The plan is to use a cloud printing service that will send documents to any printer connected to a computer (or router with print feature) connected to the net. So, you have to have other resources tied up in the equation just to print.

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Jump on the Bandwagon

To have a shot at joining in the beta, you can join here (If you are at least 18 years of age and a U.S. resident). The other option, install the Chrome browser on your PC and pretend. Some 120 million people have now given that a go, which shows there is interest in all things Chrome.

Certainly Chrome OS has a lot to do before prime time. Sure it has partners, with Kindle coming to the Web, a funky Chrome Amazon store and others, but there is no real USP that would make the rest of the world drop their current laptops for something this limited. Trying to sell it to enterprises as an easy-to-manage thin client doesn't really seem the way to go.

Will Google roll out the heavy-hitting features closer to launch that will make this a must-buy in the world of cheap Android tablets, iPad's and whatever other devices 2011 brings? We hope so.