Yesterday's announcement of the Google Chrome OS heralds a new paradigm in computing.
Whether Google dominates that paradigm is yet to be determined.
For 30 years your desk has been the heart of your computing life. The desk evolved -- mice and graphic interfaces, laptops usable in a coffee shop, chips tucked away inside a screen -- but these were minor tweaks.
The idea of Google Chrome OS is that the online world becomes the center of your computing universe. It's what some call "the cloud," but it basically means most of your data and programs live somewhere else, and that somewhere else defines how you use things.
You can see some of this world if, like me, you own a Netbook. Mine, an HP Mini, weighs just two pounds, it has no moving parts, and the first thing it does when it turns on is look for an Internet connection.
Netbooks aren't designed to hold much software, or too many files. They're an interface, and Google Chrome OS is designed to be that interface.
As the name implies it's based on Google Chrome, a Web browser Google introduced last year, as well as a version of Linux, the open source operating system Google itself runs on.
Linux has been unable to break through in the Netbook market, partly for usability reasons, but also partly because the sponsors of Linux distributions, like Ubuntu, lack the financial muscle to push product through current sales channels.
As I have written before, there is a price lower than free. There are subsidies that must be paid that help retailers get products off the shelf -- advertising, in-store collateral, after-sales support. Google has the financial wherewithal for that.
Iit also has hosted applications -- mail, calendars, and office applications. It currently offers its Mail users over 7 Gigabytes of free storage. For a monthly fee it can offer more.
There's one more important point about Google Chrome OS and the new computing paradigm that you will like. Syncing.
Syncing, short for synchronizing, means that the files you carry are regularly copied to a central store. Google offers a primitive version of this through the iPhone. You can sync your GMail contacts to it.
With the Chrome OS all your stuff can be synced in this way. Everything you presently call your "desktop environment" can be copied to and live in the cloud. Elements can be synced to a handheld, maybe running Google's Android operating system.
The latest version of your computing life, always available from wherever you are, on whatever you're using. That's syncing. No more tape back-ups, no more worries about having the latest version of a letter or report.
I suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which I sometimes call the American Disease, both because it's common here and because so many Americans seem to live in a continual attention deficit. The Google Chrome OS seems made for me.
I can't wait to get it. But I'll have to. A version that runs on Netbooks is not due out until late in 2010. By that time, perhaps, Apple or Microsoft will have delivered this new computing paradigm, and millions of people won't need or care for Google.