Since Google first introduced their Chrome OS project, to develop a browser- and Web-based alternative operating system, I have posted here from time to time on the project’s progress. The project is interesting and potentially significant, because it embodies a view of the personal computing future that is distinctly different from the traditional PC view, as promoted so successfully by Microsoft. Google’s stated intention was to develop computers, in a form factor similar to that of notebook PCs, which would run Chrome OS and provide access to services “in the cloud”.
In December of last year, Google unveiled a prototype of a Chrome OS machine, called the Cr-48. That prototype machine had a few rough edges, but was complete enough to present an intriguing look at Google’s vision of future computing. Google said at the time that it expected to introduce Chrome OS products midway through 2011.
Google’s annual I/O Developers’ Conference took place in San Francisco last week, and one of the news highlights of the conference was the announcement, summarized in an article on the Official Google Blog, that Chromebooks, Chrome OS machines, would be available for sale online, in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain, on June 15. These initial machines will be manufactured by Acer and Samsung, and will incorporate WiFi and/or 3G cellular communications. (The Technology Review also has an article on the announcement. Google’s blog post has links to an introductory video on the Chromebook, and to a video of the I/O Conference introduction.) Initial reports indicate that these production machines have resolved many of the problems seen in the Cr-48 prototype (e.g., limited USB and touchpad function). In the US, the devices will be sold online by Amazon and Best Buy, and probably others.
One of the more interesting aspects of Google’s introduction was the announcement that it would offer Chromebooks on a leased basis, bundled with support, to businesses and educational institutions.
Google will make the new Chromebooks available to businesses and educational institutions next month, via a subscription package that bundles leased computers with support. Business customers will pay $28 per user per month, while the education package will be just $20 per month. Chrome’s security features—all data on a Chromebook is encrypted by default—and its simplicity compared to a conventional machine may be major selling points to organizations that must juggle hundreds or thousands of machines.
This may well prove to be an attractive concept. One of the underlying advantages of the Chrome OS approach, as I have mentioned before, is that it takes the user out of the system administration business. Experienced IT support people know all too well that the average user is not a competent computer administrator; removing the user’s ability to shoot himself in the foot is, other things equal, a definite plus.
It will be most interesting to see how these machines are received in the market.