Would it be earlier than expected? By a lot. But given how long Google usually takes to test their products—and how long Android was public before the G1 launched—Techcrunch's report that Chrome OS is imminent isn't totally ridiculous.
Previously, Google had set the release date had been set roughly at H2 of 2010. In their words,
[T]he first netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010
Of course, that's when a dedicated product will launch, as in, a netbook from a prominent manufacturer running Chrome OS as sold. But Google did go on to say in the same announcement that that they'd "soon be working with the open source community," after which Eric Schmidt dropped a few hints that we could see Chrome OS, most likely in beta form, "as early as this year." So, that brings us to the new rumor: TechCrunch has it from a "reliable source" that we'll see Chrome OS within a week, available as a download. It'll have limited driver support, meaning Google will only endorse installation on a limited number of computers—mostly netbooks—including a number of Eee PCs.
The obvious question now is what will it look like, though I'd like to remind you that, in all likelihood we've been given a pretty good preview: Remember the version of Chrome browser for Chrome OS that leaked for Linux machines a few weeks ago? It had (or has, above) a nonoperational Start-style button, a clock embedded in the title bar, and a minimalist interface, and it's probably a pretty good indicator as to where Google's going with this. [TechCrunch]