Chrome is a seriously stripped-down, fast OS. Because Chrome supports only Web capabilities, it can do away with much of the bulk and unnecessary system checks that slow a traditional OS. For example, during start up the OS firmware doesn't have to search for floppy disk drives or other hardware that few current computers continue to use -- a task that other operating systems still perform.
Thus, Chrome is a much smaller OS that consumes almost no disk space, especially when compared to Windows. Windows 7, for example, requires about 60 times more disk space than Chrome (source: Mearian).
One nice result of these differences is speed. A fairly fast Windows machine might finish booting in around 45 seconds. In contrast, Google wants Chrome netbooks to be up and running in 7 seconds or less (source: Tweney).
Google works closely with computer makers to ensure that Chrome systems are equipped with hardware that lets the OS run optimally. Chrome runs on x86-based computers, as well as those with ARM processors.
Unsurprisingly, the Chrome OS user interface looks much like the Chrome browser. Beyond this browser-like OS, these netbooks will have no pre-installed software. There's an integrated media player that lets you watch movies, play music and view photos when you're offline. Adobe Flash is already integrated into the Chrome browser, so you can view all Flash Web sites, too.
Because there's almost no on-board storage, you won't even have to worry about installing or uninstalling other programs. When you want to write a report, for example, you just access a Web-based word processing application. Of course, data bandwidth challenges prohibit certain types of work. Video editing, for instance, won't be happening on a Chrome system anytime soon.
For more basic computing tasks, though, you should be able to find applications that suit your needs, using Google's Chrome Web Store. Similar to Apple's App Store and the Android Market, the Chrome Web Store will offer applications for a huge variety of tasks.
There are other major differences between Chrome and established operating systems. In a traditional OS, it's vital that you install device drivers that let your computer work with other hardware. If you use Chrome, Google reasons that the primary third-party device you need is a printer -- but the company doesn't want you to have to install drivers. Instead, you'll use Google's Cloud Print service, which lets you print from any computer to any printer that's connected to the Internet.
Unlike other operating systems, Chrome doesn't bombard you with an endless series of OS update alerts. When you connect your netbook to the Internet, Google updates Chrome for you automatically. The whole idea is to make your computing experience easier and more secure, with less fuss and frustration.