Google’s News: E-Books and Android and Chrome, Oh My

Sometimes Google gives the appearance of being a loose confederation rather than a single company, as if its product units are all vying to make news at the same time. That’s definitely the case this week.

Monday saw three big developments at the Googleplex in Mountain View. First came the launch of the Google eBookstore, along with dedicated e-reading apps for multiple platforms, including Android, Apple iOS, Web browsers, and Sony and Barnes & Noble e-book readers. Then, an hour later, Google announced the Nexus S, a new Samsung smartphone that’s the closest thing in existence to a “pure Google” phone, according to Google engineering vice president Andy Rubin. Coinciding with the phone’s debut was the public release of Gingerbread, the code name for the new version of the Android operating system, which powers the Nexus S.

And today, at a press event held three blocks from Xconomy’s San Francisco headquarters, the company took the wraps off a long-awaited Web app store—and shared a detailed look inside its vision for Chrome OS, which will power a line of notebook computers coming next year.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these developments, in reverse chronological order.

Chrome OS. For the first time today, Google shared its vision for a new generation of notebook computers powered not by Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux, but by Chrome OS—the operating system modeled after its popular Web browser, which is now used by 120 million people worldwide. Google plans to distribute a limited number of Chrome notebooks (with the geeky name Cr48, after an isotope of the element chromium) to business partners, developers, journalists, and other early adopters almost immediately. Consumer versions are coming from Samsung and Acer starting in “mid-2011,” according to Sundar Pichai, the Google vice president of product management who emceed today’s event.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt Speaks at Chrome OS EventThe guiding assumption behind Chrome OS is that everything PC users need to do today can be done from inside a Web browser. Chrome-powered notebooks will boot directly into the Chrome browser, and users will access the software and information resources they want either through the Web or through Web apps (i.e. browser plugins) that can be easily downloaded over the devices’ built-in 3G or Wi-Fi connections.

Chrome OS devices will cache applications and data for offline use, but they’ll be optimized for an always-on world. “Computers aren’t that useful when you’re not connected, so we’ve put in a lot of work to make sure users are always connected,” Pichai said. Google is partnering with Verizon to offer Chrome notebook owners no-contract 3G data plans, he said.

Google thinks Chrome devices will be more secure than traditional PCs since the operating system and all of a user’s Web apps will be updating automatically and seamlessly, protecting them from … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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