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Need to Know: Google Chrome OS

Google has unveiled its Chrome OS. But what exactly is it and how will it affect personal computing?

Google says so, but then it would. GMail has suffered reliability issues, as has Microsoft with its cloud service for Sidekick users.

Google is promising the system as a whole will be more secure than a standard OS, too. Every time you boot it up, the system checks for security flaws. If there is one, it scraps the OS and re-downloads it for installation - magically keeping all your settings and bits of data.

And, because you're only using web apps, there's no trouble with using updated versions, as you're always accessing the most recent version online.

Will I be able to buy any old netbook to run Chrome on?

No, Google is working with hardware providers to create Chrome specific devices, which is really the only way you'll get to use the system.

They will be netbooks, of a sort. But Google wants a bigger, easier to use keyboard and trackpad, as well as higher resolution screens sort of like a clamshell notebook.

The devices will be available by the end of next year, and Google said pricing would be inline with what we're all currently paying for netbooks, whatever that means.

In theory, after Google cracks the netbook market, it could look to notebooks and desktops, but the system seems less useful for such devices.

But can I try the system out now?

Why, yes, you can. It's an early, early build, but it does work. You can download it and have a play around with it, either by installing it on a netbook or by running it in a virtual machine.

Cool. Should Microsoft be crying in fear?

Not in the short term, no. Google stressed that - at the moment - that Chrome devices will be a secondary device, so you'll still need a computer running a standard OS.

Longer term, Google is clearly looking to encourage us to move more and more of our data online, to its own services, changing the way personal computing works. Should it be successful with that, Microsoft might have cause for concern.

Want to read more background on the latest IT topics? Click here for all the tech cheatsheets in our Need to Know series.

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