SAN FRANCISCO — In a direct challenge to Microsoft, Google is expected to announce on Wednesday that it is developing an operating system for a personal computer based on its Chrome browser, according to two people briefed on Google’s plans.
The details of the technology could not be learned, but Google plans to make the announcement on a company blog on Wednesday afternoon, this person said.
Google did not immediately return calls and e-mail messages seeking comment.
The move would sharpen the already intense competition between Google and Microsoft, whose Windows operating system controls the basic functions of the vast majority of personal computers.
Google could well be hoping to capitalize on the rise of netbooks, the compact, low-cost computers that have turned the PC world on its head.
Google already has already developed an operating system called Android, that is used for mobile phones. The software is also being built into lightweight PCs called netbooks by several manufacturers.
Google has not encouraged netbook makers to use Android as an operating system, and the Chrome-based operating system appears to be the company’s preferred software for operating netbooks.
Google has also long promoted a vision of computing in which applications delivered over the Web play an increasingly central role, replacing software programs that run on the desktop. In that world, applications run directly inside an Internet browser, rather than atop an operating system, the traditional software that controls most of the operations of a PC.
Last year, the company released the Chrome browser, which it described as a tool for users to interact with increasingly powerful Web programs, like Gmail, Google Docs and online applications created by other companies. Since then, Google has been adding capabilities to Chrome, like the ability to allow it to run applications even when a user is not connected to the Internet.
It is not clear how much work it would take for Google to turn Chrome into the central part of a full fledged operating system. But in a recent interview, Marc Andreessen, who developed the first commercial browser and co-founded Netscape, compared Chrome into an operating system
“Chrome is basically a modern operating system,” Mr. Andreessen said.
Google has also long customized a version of the Linux operating system for use internally.
The rise of netbooks has started to challenge some of Microsoft’s dominance in personal computing software. The first wave of netbooks relied on various versions of the open-source Linux operating system, and major PC makers like Hewlett-Packard and Dell have backed the Linux software.
In an unusual move, Intel, the world’s largest chip maker, has worked on developing a Linux-based operating system called Moblin as well.
The company has aimed the software at netbooks and smart phones in a bid to spur interest for its mobile device chip sold under the Atom brand.
To combat these efforts, Microsoft began offering its older Windows XP operating system for use on netbooks at a low price. In addition, the company has vowed that is upcoming Windows 7 software, due out this fall, will run well on the tiny laptops.
Netbooks have stood out as the brightest part of the PC market during the global economic downturn. Overall, PC sales have plummeted, while netbooks sales have surged.