Google Chome OS, which Google is expected to preview today, has been the subject of much speculation and rumours since its announcement last summer, when Google made public its plans to develop a lightweight, open-source Linux-based OS aimed primarily at netbooks. Ever since, a series of fake screenshots and speculation as to what Chrome will offer has bombarded the web.

Google Chrome OS: the Facts

Unfortunately, so far we know very little in terms of solid facts about Google's Chrome OS project, with the company providing only scant details. The Linux-based OS, which is built upon the company's browser of the same name, is expected to arrive in the second half of 2010, and although it will be geared toward netbooks, it'll run on higher-end PCs as well. Google has revealed a number of the manufacturers involved in the project, such as Acer, Asus, HP, and Lenovo. Intel is also in on the act.

Google's focus has been on providing a speedy, simple, and secure OS. The operating system will be heavily oriented around the web, and will likely make heavy use of cloud computing. Chrome OS is by no means the first cloud-centric OS, but it will undoubtedly make an impact on the industry, effectively changing the more commonplace 'windowing' system people are more familiar with.

Beyond these limited details we know that the Google Chrome OS will run on x86 and ARM processors, and all of Chrome's web applications will work not only on the new OS but also on any standards-based browser. Although this effectively means that Chrome OS will see no exclusive software, it's all good news for developers as they can create one single application and see it work on the largest number of platforms, be it Chrome OS, Mac, Windows, or other flavors Linux.

Chrome OS Screenshots & Speculation

The first batch of fake screenshots surfaced within days of Google's announcement; one blogger clamed to have seen a "private developer beta" at an Acer preview event. Within hours the clearly fake screenshots made the rounds on a number of blogs and news sites, and links to the images were all over Twitter. Within less than 24 hours over 120,000 people had viewed the original images, and it wasn't long before the hoaxer came clean, openly admitting the screenshots were a "really bad attempt".

The second round of fake screenshots arrived shortly after that, this time premiering on Endgadget thanks to an anonymous tipster. These alleged shots claimed to be part of the 'Chrome OS Alpha 1.01' build, and like the earlier "screenshots," lacked the authenticity to be taken to seriously. Not only was the timing suspicious, but the images features some odd user interface (UI) elemenrts, such as a horrifically chunky blue scroll bar.

However, this second batch of images did exhibit some interesting ideas as to how the new windowing system could be implemented, borrowing the Chrome browser's tab interface to display information. For example, Picasa, Google's photo management software, is seen running in its own independent browser-like tab. These screens also showed a status bar providing information on battery life, speaker volume, web connection, and so on.

We had to wait until the end of July for our next round of possible forgeries, when new images (20 in total) landed in DownloadSquad's inbox. These alleged screenshots were supposedly from a 'Developers Edition Alpha 0.2.5' build, and although highly detailed, the snaps looked nothing like a typical Google UI. Whoever produced these screenshots made the elementary error of using Photoshop's built-in default shapes, making for an obvious fake from the get-go.

At the height of summer Mashable's Pete Cashmore shared the next collection of purported screenshots. These were the first screenshots to look plausible, integrating several of Google's key web services into a single experience. These screens featured a Mac OS X-like dock for easy access to Gmail, Google Reader, Calendar, and other Google services.

Also in August, Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, left Apple's board of directors. The move came as no surprise and was due to growing "conflicts of interest" between the two companies.

The screenshots just kept coming, as TechCrunch revealed a couple more supposed images. This batch packed in massive oversized icons and a docked search bar. Interestingly, these images also featured a border-less browser window, just like the Mashable shots before them.

Things really heated up in October when Google S, a version of the Chrome browser intended for Chrome OS, was accidently released. The leak spilled the beans on some of the upcoming operating system's UI elements.

Google quickly removed the browser build from its servers, but that didn't stop others from sharing what they had found, like an integrated toolbar and a possible logo for the OS.

A few days later on October 14, it was discovered that Google was ready to show its operating system off at a special "open house" that took place at their Mountain View headquarters. Word of the event leaked out, and Google closed the event to members of the press.

Toward the end of October, as rumours increased, a download was made available claiming to be an early build of the Chrome OS. This turned out to be a hacked Linux distribution, offered to users as a VMWare appliance.

Thankfully, now that Google is ready to show off Chrome OS, we should soon know the truth, including what it really looks like, what it can do, and why we will want it.