Well, this is something new for me.  After 29 years of not winning things, I’ve won two possibly awesome things just in the past few days.  And both from the same mega-huge computer mega corp.  Yes, my Googly overlords have graced me with another freebie.

This time it’s the Cr-48, the Chrome OS laptop.  In short, Google made a netbook that’s pretty much just a web browser.   The concept of the netbook came about as a cheap laptop alternative for people who just wanted to be able to browse the web, edit a document or spreadsheet every once in a while, and maybe share some photos with the family.  No big 3d rendering applications, home recording studios or video editing suites.  Well, manufacturers began producing these small, underpowered netbooks with low price points to satisfy that market.  Google saw a huge flaw in the system.

Netbooks still run fully featured operating systems.  Your netbook can run all the software that your desktop runs, it just wouldn’t run it very well.  With Chrome OS, Google’s engineers figured, if you’re not going to want to run all that software, and you’re just using the thing for web browsing, why not ditch all those unneeded parts of the operating system?

What you’re left with can hardly be called an operating system.  Chrome OS is essentially just the Chrome web browser with a very thin layer of additional functionality.  What it means is that every bit and byte in the machine is dedicated to making the web work, and work quickly.

Right out of the box, I opened the lid and the thing was fully booted in less than 30 seconds.  Zippy.  I entered my WiFi password, punched in my Google account info and was greeted with a familiar Chrome window (complete with all of my bookmarks and browser add-ons waiting for me) in no time.  Even without WiFi, I’d have been browsing almost immediately, because this machine has a built-in 3G antenna (with 2 years of free Verizon data service). Google really delivers on their promise of zero-to-browsing in no time.

I’ve been using it for just a few hours now (incidentally, without having noticed any drain on the included battery which came only half full) and I can say it’s a very capable, though flawed, piece of hardware.  The trackpad has click and sensitivity issues.  Browsing is generally quick and and websites look great (this is after all, the awesome, and once again, highly recommended Chrome browser) but Flash player has some playback issues.  Videos can be pretty choppy at times, and downright awful at others (HTML5 video, however, plays much smoother).  It comes with a built-in web cam, but won’t allow Skype (which, at the moment, has no web app version).

Kelly asked, after I geeked about this thing for a while, “What does it do that your other computer can’t?”  Well, precisely nothing.  In fact, there are a great many things that this one can’t do.  However, in this case, it’s addition by subtraction.  I have a feeling this will be my main travel computer (at least for non-working trips).  And, when I’m home, it may well stay put in the kitchen, for the quick recipe reference or useless trivia lookup.

For the user who lives life in the cloud, Chrome OS could be a great alternative to the netbook.  Especially if it comes for free ;)

Update: Wired says it all.