When you use a Chrome OS computer, most of your data and your settings is saved online, so it doesn’t really matter which Chrome OS computer you’re using. Just sign in with your Google account and you can find your bookmarks, your applications and maybe even your documents.
Chrome OS computers are actually designed for sharing and there’s even a guest mode based on Chrome’s incognito mode. “When you use web apps on your Chrome notebook, all your documents are stored safely in the cloud. But certain kinds of files, like downloads, cookies, and browser cache files, may still be present on your computer. Your Chrome notebook encrypts all this data using tamper-resistant hardware, making it very difficult for anyone to access those files. With Guest Mode, you can let friends use your Chrome notebook without signing in. They can use the web freely, but they won’t be able to access your email or other data. And once they sign off, all their browsing data is permanently erased from your computer,” explains Google.
Glen Murphy, who is a Chrome user interface designer, tried to show what happens when an inexpensive Chrome OS notebook is damaged. Your data is still available because it’s stored online and you can resume your work using another computer.
One of the reason why mobile app stores are successful is that applications are more discoverable. Users know where to find applications, there’s a consistent interface for ratings and reviews, an easy way to buy applications and to compare them.
For web applications there’s no web store and it’s not always easy to find a good web app. Since Google Chrome OS is an operating system designed for running web apps, it’s really important for Google to provide a list of high-quality web applications. Users may need an online photo editor, a music player, a chess game, a Math software or an online IDE.
Chrome Web Store will be launched later this year and intends to be “an open marketplace for web apps”. Users will be to “install” applications by adding a shortcut to the new tab page. When you “install” an application, it can integrate with the browser by using advanced features that require permission: local storage, user’s location, notifications.
“An installed web app could be separated visually from other tabs, could integrate better with the OS, and could be granted increased permissions. This special handling of web apps is exactly what we’re working on in Google Chrome. Installing a web app in Google Chrome is easy and quick, with no restart required. At its simplest, installing a web app is like creating a super-bookmark to it. Once installed, a web app gets a big icon in Google Chrome’s app launcher area, as well as some integration with the host OS,” explains Google.
Even if the web applications from the Chrome Store will work in other browsers, Chrome will include some features that make it easier to use the applications. It will be interesting to see how many paid apps from the Chrome Web Store will be successful.
Update: You can already install applications in the latest Chromium builds. This post explains how to add the “enable-apps” flag and shows an example of application.
Google posted more images that show the user interface of Google Chrome OS. The interface is still under development, so it may change until the first stable version is released, later this year.
Chrome OS uses an interesting visualization for tab overview. “The overview is available via either gesture and hotkey. It provides a visual way of switching between windows and tabs. Windows are exploded into the tabs they contain, and all tabs/windows are visible in a single 2.5d space. This model is largely based on Peter Jin Hong & Elin Pedersen’s G.L.I.D.E. Tab Navigation. We present tabs in a venetian blind arrangement, ensuring visibility of the top left of every page, and using perspective to compress the most useful portions of the page into the available strips. Favicons are presented as an alternative visual aid.”
Google also posted some screenshots of the open/save dialogs and the download shelf panel. “The shelf is an on demand target for downloading and uploading. It acts as a temporary resting place for files that have been accessed, and for content being uploaded to websites.”
Even if the Chrome OS only lets you use a browser, you can still download files and open them using Chrome’s multimedia libraries or using web applications like Google Docs.
A notification panel will be used for OS and website notifications, so web applications will be able to add their own alerts.
Chrome OS will also include simple applications like a calculator:
Google found an interesting solution for printing documents in Chrome OS. Instead of preloading the drivers for the most popular printers, Chrome OS will use an online service for printing: Google Cloud Print.
In Google Chrome OS, all applications are web apps. Therefore, in designing the printing experience for Google Chrome OS, we want to make sure printing from web apps is as natural as printing from traditional native apps is today. Additionally, with the proliferation of web-connected mobile devices such as those running Google Chrome OS and other mobile operating systems, we don’t believe it is feasible to build and maintain complex print subsystems and print drivers for each platform. In fact, even the print subsystems and drivers on existing PC operating systems leave a lot of room for improvement.
Our goal is to build a printing experience that enables any app (web, desktop, or mobile) on any device to print to any printer anywhere in the world. This goal is accomplished through the use of a cloud print service. Apps no longer rely on the local operating system (and drivers) to print. Instead, apps (whether they be a native desktop/mobile app or a web app) use Google Cloud Print to submit and manage print jobs. Google Cloud Print is then responsible for sending the print job to the appropriate printer, with the particular options the user selected, and providing job status to the app.
The only problem is that no printer supports Google Cloud Print and that’s why Google revealed some details about the service’s interfaces, hoping that printer manufacturers will update their software and support it. If a printer doesn’t support Google’s service, you’ll need a proxy software for the computer where the printer is installed. Google says that the proxy software will be bundled with Google Chrome.
Google wants to associate your printers with a Google account and manage them the same way as you manage Google Docs documents, so you can share them with other people. Web applications can use APIs to customize the printing options and change the user interface displayed when you start printing a document.
“We believe cloud printing has tremendous benefits for end users and for the industry and is essential, given the rapid shift toward cloud-based applications and data storage. We also believe that the only way that the benefits of cloud printing can be realized is if the protocols are open, freely implementable, and, when possible, based on existing industry standards. We expect there to be multiple cloud print services, and users should have a choice in which services they use and which printers they can connect to a service. Stay tuned for more details. We are confident that cloud-aware printers will soon be a reality,” suggests Google.
It may seem that Google’s solution is complicated and difficult to implement: we need an open standard for cloud printing, cloud-aware printers and users need to associate printers with an online service. Instead of sending the printing job directly to the printer, you’ll send it to the online service, which forwards it to the printer. Despite all these hurdles, Google Cloud Print allows you to print documents from a mobile phone, tablet, notebook or any other mobile device. You’ll be able to print files from an Android phone or tablet, from a Chrome OS computer, from any computer that runs Google Chrome and from other devices that will support Google Cloud Print.