Remember the Chrome OS from Google? …announced in mid-2009, with the promise of Chrome-based netbooks in mid-2010 (see my post from way back then)?
The Chrome operating system took longer to perfect than Google thought, and netbooks sales began to nosedive. Whether this was due to the debut of the iPad or more competitive pricing from low-end notebooks (the latter is my guess) doesn’t matter. Netbooks using Chrome would have been a non-starter.
What Google has just announced instead is the Chromebook, or Chrome notebook, which will be available for purchase in the US and western Europe on June 15th.
–made by Samsung (12.1″ screen, 3.26 lbs, 8.5 hr battery life) or Acer (11.6″ screen, 2.95 lbs, 6 hr battery life)
–Intel Atom processor
–8 second boot up
–small (unspecified size) SSD, cloud storage
–Chrome OS, Google apps–for now, Chrome notebooks will not be able to use traditional PC software; Google is working on a free service that will allow you to access Windows- or Mac-based PCs from a Chromebook, so you can use software installed on them, too
–printing either through Google Cloud Print, or through a link to a traditional PC.
purchase: $350-$500, depending on screen size and whether you elect 3G service or just stick with wi-fi.
rental: Schools and students will be able to rent Chromebooks directly from Google for $20 a month; for businesses, it’s $28. The price includes free replacement of lost/stolen/damaged units + centralized IT support for business users.
Score one for Intel. Chrome is designed for either Intel or Arm chips, but Google is standardizing on the much more powerful Atom chip.
Google has picked two PC manufacturers with almost no presence in the US, and who therefore have no existing business to cannibalize. They doubtless see Chromebooks as a huge opportunity to pick up market share and will do everything in their power to make Chromebooks work.
The replacement guarantee for renters should make Chromebooks especially attractive to schools. If so, Google will gradually grow a generation of users with limited experience of traditional PCs.
Small businesses may find the savings of turning a lot of their IT administration over to Google to be big enough to justify a $28 a month price, since adminstration is a much bigger cost than the PCs themselves. Large companies are a lost cause, though. It’s not simply that they have so much legacy software; I imagine large corporate IT departments will fight this potential loss of their power with every office-political trick they have.
If Intel is potentially the biggest winner, other than Google, from the success of Chromebooks, Microsoft stands to be the biggest loser, in my opinion. Maybe buying Skype to dress up the appeal of Windows to consumers (and small businesses) isn’t so crazy after all.