The Chrome OS laptops will be built by a range of laptop manufacturers in a variety of form factors. They will compete with existing laptops powered by the Windows, Mac OS X and Linux operating systems, in much the same way as Google's Android operating system challenges established players in the mobile phone arena.
Laptops powered by Chrome OS won't ship with a hard drive. Instead, all applications and user data will be stored in the cloud on Google's servers. Applications will be downloaded via the new Chrome Web Store and will consist of everyday favourites such as Google Docs, as well as free, paid-for and subscription-based applications created by third parties.
Crucially, use of HTML5 will help ensure data is still usable even when the laptops aren't connected to the Internet. All Chrome OS laptops will feature dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi and come with integrated 3G modems, with data connectivity provided by Verizon in the US. Data providers for markets outside the US have not yet been announced.
No contracts will be required to get online. Verizon will allow all Chrome OS laptop customers to download 100MB of data every month for two years, although, if this proves insufficient, users will be able to top up their allowance with day passes that provide unlimited data usage for 24 hours, or pay for additional data allowance by the gigabyte.
Google says it will take less than 60 seconds to get up and running from the moment a user unboxes their Chrome OS laptop for the first time. It also demonstrated a lightning-quick standby mode that saw the notebooks enter and emerge from standby mode as soon as the lid was opened or closed.
The Chrome OS user experience will be consistent across multiple laptops. As soon as a user logs in, their desktop themes, applications and settings will be synchronised with the new hardware, ensuring there is no difference in their Chrome OS experience regardless of where they log in or what device they use to do so.
Google also demonstrated a 'guest' mode that allows friends to log into Chrome OS and use an incognito browser window, maintaining privacy for both themselves and the owner of the laptop.
The first laptops to use Google Chrome OS will be built by Acer and Samsung, and launch by the summer of 2011. Until then, Google will test the new OS in a pilot programme, using an unbadged laptop known as the Cr-48.
The laptop is equipped with a 12.1-inch display, a full-size keyboard, a huge, MacBook-style clickable touchpad, a 3G modem, 802.11n dual-band Wi-Fi, a webcam and a battery that provides 8 hours of constant use, or 8 days of standby time.
We'll bring you a full hands-on with a Chrome OS laptop in the near future. Until then, keep your eyes locked on CNET UK.