The Internet's been alive with supposition, speculation and inspired guesses since Google's Chrome OS news  hit this week. That's possibly why Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, stepped up and talked about things. He's serious about Chrome.
Schmidt and Google's co-founder Larry Paige gave a briefing to reporters yesterday, which in itself is an interesting point, given that Google took an unusual route when releasing the news in the first place--opting to use only its own blog, rather than a press release. During the briefing, Schmidt noted that Chrome OS is closer to Android than had previously been suggested. He also underlined that Google had been in discussions with a number of suppliers (including HP and netbook giant Acer) under strict non-disclosure rules. Much more interestingly, Schmidt then noted "hopefully later this year we'll see some announcements," which implies that some product information about Chrome on netbooks will be seen in 2009.
That's at odds with Google's initial information that Chrome will be released in the latter half of 2010. Does it imply that Chrome may be coming sooner than we think? Or does it merely suggest that a big-name manufacturer will reveal its involvement well ahead of the public arrival of Chrome? It's very hard to tell, but the latter option is more likely.
This all indicates how serious Google is about Chrome, since it's chosen to go public at an extremely early stage in the project. It also indicates that, as I suspected , Google isn't necessarily setting itself up as a direct rival to Microsoft in the OS market. Schmidt himself avoided speaking about MS, but did say that Chrome would be "additive" to PC market which implies that Google and its manufacturer partners see Chrome as an extra for PCs. It could be offered as some form of dual-boot, rapid-on OS with strong cloud-based links--a different, possibly more user-friendly alternative than the Linux netbook installs which have never really gripped the public's imagination.
But there's another angle to Schmidt and Paige's briefing which could give fuel to some conspiracy theorists. With such high-profile support for Chrome, and effectively no detailed news at all, it's just about plausible that instead of trying to spoil MS's Office Cloud plans, Google discovered it had sprung a leak, and that someone was going to reveal the company's OS plans in an uncontrolled way. If Google was maneuvering to preempt that, it could explain why Chrome was revealed so unexpectedly in a blog post, with the company's execs chasing along afterwards.