Google spent much of the second day of the Google I/O event focused on the Chrome OS and the unveiling the upcoming Chromebook computers. The Web-centric netbooks are an ambitious attempt to fundamentally change the way people compute, and could possibly replace your traditional laptop...if you let it.
First, a little background on Chrome OS and the upcoming Chromebooks. The Chrome OS--not to be confused with Google's Chrome Web browser--is an operating system developed by Google. The premise of Chrome OS is to deliver a completely Web-centric experience free from the processing overhead, security issues, and general annoyances that plague traditional PCs, especially Windows PCs.
Google has an entertaining video clip which begins by explaining that the Chromebook is not a laptop. It is also not a computer, really. The Chromebook--according to Google--doesn't just "have" the Web, it "is" the Web.There is no desktop. There are no locally-installed applications. You simply do everything you need to do on the Web, using a portable netbook-like device that boots almost instantly.
On The Official Google Blog, Google explains that Chromebooks boot up in seconds, rather than minutes. It claims that automatic updates mean that your Chromebook will get faster over time (admittedly, I don't understand how to connect those dots). The Chromebook can go all day on a single charge, and optional 3G connectivity means you can get online from virtually anywhere.
The post states, "Your apps, games, photos, music, movies and documents will be accessible wherever you are and you won't need to worry about losing your computer or forgetting to back up files." That may be true, but it assumes that you have fully-embraced Google and all things Web. Obviously, if you keep your photos on a portable USB drive connected to your Windows 7 desktop, accessing them from your Chromebook will be problematic.
If you look at what Microsoft is doing by integrating Internet Explorer 9 into Windows 7 and essentially extending the desktop to include the Web, you will see that Google and Microsoft are actually pursuing essentially the same goal, but from opposite directions. Microsoft is trying to build a bridge from the traditional Windows/Office model to integrate seamlessly with the Web, while Google is trying to take its Web-based tools and experience and deliver them in a more PC-like format. Both approaches recognize that the Web has advantages as an application and productivity platform. Google is farther along in embracing and delivering the Web, though.
Although it is true to an extent that you can choose to abandon the traditional desktop and software model and work completely from the cloud with a device like the Chromebook and the Chrome OS, it is also true that you could just as easily choose to use those Web-based tools and services from a traditional Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux laptop, and maintain the added benefit that you can also install software locally and do other things you might not be able to do with a Chromebook.
The Chromebook looks compelling, and Google's vision for the future of mobile computing is intriguing, but Chromebooks won't be replacing laptops any time soon.