Google Inc.'s new Chrome operating system, which is designed to bypass computer hard drives and work totally by way of an Internet connection, got its first public preview Thursday.
The system, due out about a year from now, could eventually pose the first real competition for Microsoft Corp.'s and Apple Inc.'s computer operating systems since the earliest days of home computers.
Chrome's main difference is that applications and other materials that now exist on a user's hard drive will instead live online.
Chrome will be available, at least at first, only for the small netbook computers that use solid-state drives.
One of the main advantages of the operating system, as extolled by Google product manager Sundar Pichai, is speed. The entire online system popped up on the screen of a demonstration computer less than 10 seconds after rebooting.
Pichai compared it to hitting the "on" button of a TV. "You turn it on, and you should be on the Web," he said at a news conference webcast from company headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
Not surprisingly, the on-screen interface of the operating system looked much like a browser. On top were tabs showing programs for e-mail, documents, a chess game, a book e-reader and more.
Pichai showed how panels that popped up from the bottom of the screen (around Google they're nicknamed "moles") can be used to play music, send an instant message or show a quick video while browsing the Web or doing work.
The aim for consumers, Pichai said, is simplicity. "We just want computers to be delightful and work," he said.
One of the keys to Chrome OS' success probably will be how much users can actually do with it, given that it won't be using much of the software in common use now.
To that end, Pichai announced that, as of Thursday, the company was making the system's computer code public so that outside developers could start making applications for it.
Google released an animated video on YouTube (which it owns) to explain Chrome OS to the public.