Seriously, how awesome have the past few hours been? Engadget turns the design stakes up to 11, Google finally dishes the dirt on Chrome OS, and now you can even download the forthcoming software to have a fiddle with yourself. It's completely free, though you'll need VMWare running atop a Windows, Linux or OS X installation to make the magic happen. Naturally, we've been considerate enough to provide download links for everything you'll require at the source below, so get those fingers clicking. We've already successfully installed the browser-based OS and will soon be sharing our own hands-on thoughts, but if you beat us to it, spill your insight in the comments below. We do read 'em, you know.

Update: Join us after the break to see what we thought of our first run through the new OS.
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Chrome OS hands-on

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Well, we've had a chance to have a quick and dirty snoop around Chrome OS and our early conclusions are rather predictable. This really is a browser with an OS attached rather than vice versa. You get your tab-based navigation up top, and the focus is of course on the internet, with minimal option buttons on the far right and app launchers at the top left. Unfortunately, in order to access the more interesting apps, one requires a Google.com login which we do not have, so we were stuck gazing at only the Gmail and Calendar applications. They act and function much like their online counterparts, but for the significant lag and choppiness that may be attributed to the still very early stage of development or the fact it's running on a virtual machine.

We didn't manage to find any bugs as such, aside from somehow losing the aforementioned pair of apps on our second login, but that could've just been due to our own fumbling with the VM software. One thoroughly pleasing thing to note is that the "machine" booted to the login screen in under 10 seconds, and we were ready to browse the web within another five -- quite a feat already, and if paired to an equally smooth and responsive experience inside the OS, this could completely obliterate quick-launching browsing software like Splashtop.

Rest assured we'll be doing our utmost to get access to the full, albeit still skeletal, Chrome OS experience, and as soon as we can take a look at the rest of the apps on offer, we'll do a more in-depth analysis. Stay tuned.

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Google Chrome OS available as free VMWare download (update: first impressions)