What is a Chrome OS notebook?

Last week Google put a reference design notebook called the Cr-48 into the hands of many press, and excited consumers. This new notebook runs Google's Chrome OS operating system and, according to Google, represents a new type of computing experience, mainly one that takes place solely within the browser.In my column last Friday I started a debate about the fate of netbooks as I predicted the death of the netbook category. I appreciate all who commented on that column for contributing to the discussion. I ended the column pointing out that if the definition of the netbook is no longer valid, then what are we to call the Chrome OS notebook?

First of all, Google is being very intentional in not calling it a netbook. Yet, by the original definition of a netbook and by the definition held by many others, that is exactly what this device is. So why isn't Google, Intel or others who are a part of this Chrome OS notebook calling it a netbook if, by the accepted definition, that is exactly what it is?

I believe the reason is for Google and many others this 12-inch notebook running Google's Chrome browser operating system represents where computing is heading in the future. This new world of computing is executed within the browser where there is no longer a need for localized software that needs to be "installed" and then executed by the OS.

At the Chrome event I attended last week the point was made on stage that "everything" you can do with local software can be done in the cloud through the browser. In concept that is true to a degree and will most likely become even more true in the future.

After using the CR-48 for several days and trying to accomplish normal and everyday work tasks I concluded that the entire experience is way to early to judge or to compare. So that leaves us to think about what it could be rather than what it currently is.

Can it be a Notebook?Those of us who use PCs everyday are still used to relying on a handful of local applications on a regular basis. Using your email client, instant messenger, collaboration software, photo or video editor, word editor of choice, etc is all a part of how you the consumer have customized your computer to do all the things you want it to do.

For this world to exist in a Chrome OS notebook, every single software application that exists today – and every future one that may be developed – would need to be available as a browser-only application as well. Let's take e-mail for example.

It is absolutely correct that it's possible to check my e-mail online through the browser. That, however, does not mean that it is my preferred way to check or respond to e-mail. In fact, the online experience with my Exchange server pales in comparison to the email application I use by choice. Many of the applications I use are because I have selected them as the ones most important for my computing experience. None of those applications can be accessed or used through the browser only.

Now, perhaps the point can be made that mainstream consumers do the vast majority of their computing tasks online through the browser, like e-mail etc. However, the success of a browser-only computer will come down to consumer choice being available for the applications they prefer. It will again come down to how much software or "apps" are available.

Lastly, one of the more interesting things if this world comes true is that it won't be unique to Google or their Chrome OS notebook. If the browser becomes the software platform on which computing takes place, then anyone who make a browser can compete. Maybe even more importantly, the Internet becomes the platform on which computing takes place and that raises an entirely new set of interesting questions.

What do you think the Chrome OS notebook is?