OS X Lion features could make Google Chromebooks tough sell

A browser-only mode expected with Apple's new desktop OS could add competition for other firms with a similar product

Apple's new version of its desktop operating system is expected to allow quick access to the Internet without having to log back in when your system is locked.

The feature would be a welcome addition for Apple customers, as well as added competition for other firms that are rolling out devices that are essentially browsers in a box.

MacRumors says Apple has stuck a browser-only mode called "Restart to Safari" into OS X Lion, the forthcoming version of Apple's desktop operating system. The feature reportedly appears as an option on Lion's lock screen giving you access to a sandboxed version of the Safari browser. You wouldn't be able to access your desktop applications or other computer files from the browser-only mode.

The new feature could dim the sales prospects for Google's Chrome OS-based Chromebooks.

Acer and Samsung will be the first out of the gate with Chromebooks (available for pre-order now) on Wednesday that are priced from $380-$500. The new browser-based notebooks are sleek, well-built and relatively fast. But the biggest downside of these devices is they are simply browsers in a box and almost nothing else. The $500 model of Samsung's Series 5 Chromebook features Chrome OS, a 12.1-inch screen with WXGA 1280 x 800 resolution, 1.66GHz Intel Atom processor, 16GB mSATA SSD, 2GB RAM, two USB 2.0 ports, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity.

Contrast that with a $1000 MacBook Air running Lion -- due out in July -- featuring an 11.6-inch screen with 1366-by-768 resolution, 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB RAM, 64GB flash storage, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, two USB 2.0 ports, and a Mini DisplayPort. You'll also get a full operating system and, if the reports are true, a browser-only mode for those times when you need quick Internet access. The only downside to this set-up might be how well Lion runs on the cheapest MacBook Air. Lion requires a computer with 2GB RAM and at least a Core 2 Duo processor, but it's unclear how Lion performs on minimum specs.

At $1000, the cheapest MacBooks cost twice as much as a Chromebook, but you get the advantage of having a full desktop operating system. Add to that the instant on feature found in Apple's latest MacBook Air models, and Chrome OS becomes a much tougher sell.

Connect with Ian Paul ( @ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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