Google is jumping into Microsoft Windows territory -- and threatening to change the way personal computers work -- with its own version of a computer operating system.
Google's operating system will augment its Web browser, which is also called Chrome.
The company says the forthcoming Google Chrome OS will revolutionize how computers operate, putting more emphasis on Web functionality, making computers faster and opening them up to helpful tinkering by outside program developers.
"The operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web," Google said late Tuesday on its official blog. "It's our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be."
Chrome OS will be available this coming fall or winter, Google says.
But why should you care?
A trim and speedy Google operating system, which has been buzzed about online for some time, is interesting for several reasons -- even if you think it could flop out of the gate.
The first is that Chrome OS will be available as "open-source" technology. That means software developers will be able to mess with the code behind the system, allowing them to develop new applications for it.
That idea is part of what made Apple's iPhone so successful. Apple doesn't try to make every possible program for the phone. It lets third-party developers create all kinds of games and programs they think might be useful. In essence, it puts the users in control.
This wisdom-of-the-masses philosophy flies right in the face of Microsoft Windows, which keeps its code locked away.
The open-source nature of Chrome OS also has led to some speculation that the software will be free, as many open-source platforms are. Google Inc., based in Mountain View, California, hasn't commented on price as of yet, although most of its services, such as Gmail and Picasa, are free.
Second, Google's operating system supports another buzz term in the tech world: cloud computing. That phrase means a bunch of things to different people, but it essentially refers to the idea that a lot of computing can be done through Internet servers instead of on the computer that's sitting in front of you.
Cloud computing, in part, is behind the rise in netbooks -- small laptops that are essentially portals of entry into the much greater vat of information, storage space and computing power that exists "in the cloud."
Google's blog says its OS will be designed specifically to work with netbooks at first. Later versions are expected to target the larger desktop and laptop computer markets.
The OS also probably will partner well with Google's Web browser, also called Chrome. Essentially, the operating system could become an Internet-based experience.
Michael Arrington, co-editor at TechCrunch, says that's a big threat to Microsoft's business, but it may help consumers.
"Don't worry about those desktop apps you think you need. Office? Meh. You've got Zoho and Google Apps," he writes. "You won't miss Office."
Finally, Google says in its blog post that it's "going back to basics" with this operating system.
The company realizes that speed and functionality are top priorities for computer users who now live on the Internet.
"People want to get to their email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up. They want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them. They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files," the company writes.
"Even more importantly, they don't want to spend hours configuring their computers to work with every new piece of hardware, or have to worry about constant software updates. And any time our users have a better computing experience, Google benefits as well by having happier users who are more likely to spend time on the Internet."
Many tech writers seem enamored with the idea.
Writing for TechCrunch, MG Siegler says Google is inventing an operating system that users almost won't notice. It will boot quickly, then get out of the way.
"What Google is doing is not recreating a new kind of OS, they're creating the best way to not need one at all," Siegler writes.
Siegler says Google is "dropping the mother of bombs on its chief rival, Microsoft," adding that the move is "a genius play."
Microsoft Corp., based in Redmond, Washington, did not respond immediately to a request for comment on this story. The company is set to release Windows 7, its latest operating system -- or program that helps your computer's hardware run software applications -- on October 22.
Ars Technica, a tech site that reportedly broke the story Tuesday before Google announced the news on its blog, writes that Google's OS will forward the idea of computing in the cloud.
"With such an OS, Google could obviously make it extra easy for users to access the full range of Google cloud applications through the browser -- Google Docs, Gmail, Google Maps, etc," the site says.
But a Google operating system, combined with the already extensive reach of Google products, could draw more attention from the federal government for possible antitrust violations, says CNET writer Stephen Shankland.
"The move has widespread implications," he writes. "One is that it shows just how serious Google is about making the Web into a foundation not just for static pages but for active applications, notably its own such as Google Docs and Gmail.
"Another: it opens new competition with Microsoft and, potentially, a new reason for antitrust regulators to pay close attention to Google's moves."
Others say the news is somewhat overblown.
The Silicon Alley Insider says success of the operating system is "far from guaranteed."
Reporter Henry Blodget writes that Google's operating system could go the way of the Chrome Web browser -- which has turned out to be more of a niche product rather than a true rival to Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
"Google's browser initiative, Chrome, has been a fun little science project, but as a product it has been a flop," Blodget writes.
"The same can be said for almost all of Google's non-search products. If Google wants to have a chance at success in this business, it needs to focus on it with the same intensity it once put into search. This will be challenging for Google, which, for the last several years, has had the luxury of dabbling in whatever it pleases."