Sure, Chrome OS has been all over the headlines since early December. But it might not run on your hardware and you're going to have to wait at least a year for the final version. Why bother waiting?
Linux enthusiasts have been working on projects like this for years - fast booting, stripped-down distributions which offer the core functionality most users are looking for in a pinch: web browsing, music and video playback, photo management, and some basic games.
Here are 11 options you can take for a spin right now...And since the Google Chrome beta version is available for Linux you can even run the browser that "is the OS" in most of these if you want!
Intel's backing gives Moblin a big boost publicity-wise, so it's quickly become a key player in the netbook/ultraportable Linux game. Moblin V2 and 2.1 were big improvements over the first release, and the Mozilla-based web browser keeps getting better. Moblin boots quickly, and you can run it from an optical drive, USB flash drive, or install it onto your HDD or SSD.
Jolicloud is currently in open beta testing, and it's already built a large, supportive following. Its foundation is the Ubuntu Netbook Remix, but Jolicloud adds a social layer and a nice, easy-to-use repository of web-based apps (like Gmail, Facbook, and Twitter) and locally installed ones (like VLC and Skype).
It's also got a full terminal and supports apt-get, meaning you can install just about anything else that's in a Ubuntu repository - loads of excellent Linux games like Wormux and 0 A.D., for example.
xPud (also header image)
I mentioned xPud when I asked for your initial impressions of Chrome OS, and our search function went nuts - logging more than a thousand queries overnight. It's available as a LiveCD or USB image, and there's even a Windows-based installer (think Wubi) which will install xPud alongside your current Win environment and modify the boot.ini or BCD (I've had mixed results with this, but nothing fatal - xPud just doesn't boot if something goes wrong but Windows is always OK).
xPud is tiny - about 50/60MB - and it boots in about 10 seconds. In addition to Firefox, xPud also include MPlayer , and it has now added Chrome-style web app shortcuts as well. Using opt-get you can easily download a few other apps like Transmission, DropBox, Skype, and OpenOffice. More apps are on the way!
30Mb doesn't seem like a heck of a lot of room for anything these days. That's about one third the size of the iTunes download, for crying out loud! Still, in that amount room Slitaz crams in Firefox, Transmission, Alsaplayer, gFTP, OsmoOrganizer, and more.
If there was a Firefox OS to Google's Chrome OS, WebConverger would be it. This distro is designed for use in web kiosks, but it's a pretty similar experience to using Chrome OS. There's a stripped down Linux shell and a browser (Firefox), and that's about it.
Based on Puppy Linux, Browser Linux cuts away the unneeded extras (who knew Puppy had 'em to cut?) and weighs in at just 78Mb. You wind up with fast access to Firefox (with Flash support), Alsaplayer, PDF Reader, and geeky essentials like Terminal and a text editor.
Both MacPup remixes are based upon Puppy Linux (see below) and utilize the Enlightenment e17 window manager. As you no doubt guessed, each one features a different default browser. MacPup is one of the very few distros you can find which offers Opera out-of-the-box.
Damn Small Linux and Puppy Linux
With all the other distros I mentioned here, I just didn't feel right about leaving out two of the most influential lightweight Linux distros around: Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux (DSL). If you want a more complete desktop experience but don't want to give up fast boot times or throw away a boatload of disk space, DSL and Puppy are well worth a test drive. Both include a wide array of programs and plenty more can be installed with minimal fuss.
They're also ideally suited to aging hardware that you can't bring yourself to recycle.
A 200MB dynamo built on Slackware, Slax offers one seriously awesome feature you won't find with any of the other options mentioned here. You can customize you ISO before you download. It's as simple as choosing build Slax and then browsing through the massive inventory of packages available to plug in. Bonus points: you can even drop Google Chrome into your personal build.
Slax has long been a favorite of Linux users looking for a feature-packed but lightweight desktop OS, and it's been downloaded more than 2 million times.