It's official: Google will compete head-to-head with Microsoft's dominant Windows OS with a new system called Google Chrome OS. Based on the Google Chrome browser and not its previous OS effort, the smart phone-based Android system, Google Chrome OS will initially be aimed at netbooks and will ship on new devices in the second half of 2010.

"The Google Chrome Operating System is our attempt to rethink what operating systems should be," a blog post credited to Google Vice President Sundar Pichai and Engineering Director Linus Upson reads. "Speed, simplicity, and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We're designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don't have to deal with viruses, malware, and security updates. It should just work."

Google notes that the Google Chrome OS will run on x86- and ARM-based systems and will be made available on multiple PCs by a number of PC makers. It's based on the Linux kernel, Google says, and will feature a new windowing system that runs the Chrome browser. The application platform will be purely web-based and will work on any standards-based browsers on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Google has been making steady inroads into Microsoft's core markets for years, but this announcement obviously cuts right to the heart of the software giant's most important product line. And although it's curious that Google wouldn't better leverage its previous work with Android, the move to a purely web-based OS isn't all that off-center for the company, as its own core products are all web-based.

Looking at this more broadly, there's been precious little discussion so far about how this move will affect minority OS providers such as Apple and Linux. Google's push into netbooks and PCs is obviously a concern for Microsoft but will likely have a bigger impact, in the beginning, on those systems. Apple, in particular, has experienced strong growth in recent years, although that growth has largely stalled over the past quarter, and the company's Mac OS X still accounts for less than 4 percent usage share worldwide. And Apple's struggles have come against exactly the kind of machines that Google wants to make: netbooks. If Google is successful with its Chrome OS, that success will likely impact the Mac as well.

In related news, Google yesterday removed the Beta label from its Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs products after learning that the label was a deployment blocker for corporations. Google is hoping to get its business-oriented Apps suite, which combines these and other products into a single offering, into more businesses this year.