The first batch of Google Chromebooks is scheduled to go on sale next week, but if it’s up to U.S. PC-maker ISYS Technologies, that won’t happen. According to a press release from ISYS, the company wants Google and its partners (including Samsung, Acer, Amazon and Best Buy) to cancel the 15 June launch. According to ISYS, the name ‘Chromebook’ infringes on one of its own trademarks, the “ChromiumPC” it sells under its Xi3 label. (more…)
Google just announced a number of new features and partners around its ChromeOS program. Chromebooks, as Google calls them, will be available for purchase in the U.S., UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain on June 15. Starting at the same time, businesses and schools will be able to subscribe to the Chromebook program for $28 and $20 dollars respectively. The first Chromebooks will be made by Acer and Samsung. Acer’s first device will be a small laptop that will retail for around $349 dollars and Samsung will make a larger device that will cost $429 for a WiFi-only version and $499 for a 3G-enabled one.
What’s a Chromebook?
To provide 3G data plans, Google has also partnered with telecom companies in all of the countries it is launching this program. In the U.S. Chromebooks will be available through Amazon and Best Buy and Verizon will provide the 3G connectivity.
These Chromebooks basically run a modified version of Google’s Chrome browser on top of a Linux operating system that is almost completely hidden from the user. They feature SSD drives for fast startup (8 seconds), SD card slots and a very long battery life (around 8 hours). They do not, however, allow users to install any software outside of browser extensions, making them safer and easier to upgrade than traditional laptops (but also more limited in their usefulness, as some critics point out). The devices will be based around dual-core Intel Atom processors.
Chromebook’s for Businesses and Schools
On the business side, Google is also stressing the reduced cost of maintaining these laptops, as well as their compatibility with web-based enterprise apps and apps virtualized through technologies like Citrix.
Besides laptops, Samsung will also produce a Mac Mini-like Chromebox – a small computer that allows users to attach their own screens, keyboards and mice. Google did not share any information about the price and availability of this device, though.
As Google’s Sundar Pichai told the audience during today’s keynote, managing computers is too costly and too complex for most businesses and schools. With the Chromebook, Google wants to make this cheaper and easier. Just like the CR-48 laptop Google gave away during a pilot program over the last few months, these new Chromebooks will update themselves automatically (“They will get better as you use them,” said Pichai) and businesses that subscribe to Google’s program will also get regular hardware refreshes, as well as warranties and replacements.
Besides the limited sales of its Nexus phones and its search appliance, this is really the first time Google gets this deeply into the hardware business. So far, Google hasn’t really established a reputation for great customer service, but maybe this program will give it a chance to redeem itself.
It’s been just about a week since Google’s Cr-48 prototype ChromeOS netbook appeared on my doorstep. Since then, I’ve been putting it through its paces, including during a short trip to a press event in Detroit, and it’s turned out to be a surprisingly useful machine.
A Few Words About the Hardware
I’ve read quite a bit about people’s problems with the current hardware, especially the trackpad. I don’t know if I just got lucky, but besides the widely chronicled issues with slow video playback (which I tend to attribute to Flash more than to the hardware itself), the trackpad and everything else on the Cr-48 worked as expected. Indeed, while the 3.8 pound Atom-powered netbook is clearly no a speed demon, it’s perfectly adequate for browsing the Web and the speed feels similar to the browsing experience on the iPad.
Q: Is Living in the Cloud Really an Option Yet? A: Kinda
At the end of the day, the Cr-48 is really a radical experiment on Google’s part that tries to answer whether it’s really possible to live in the cloud without wired Internet access and native apps outside of the browser. After all, ChromeOS gives you nothing but a browser and access to WiFi and Verizon’s 3G network (with a meager 100mb of free data transfer on Verizon’s network). You don’t get any native apps and with the exception of a few early ChromeOS apps like the NYTimes app, most of the current apps don’t offer an offline mode yet. For the most part, you don’t even get access to the notebook’s local storage (a fast 16GB SSD drive).
What was interesting to me, was that the Cr-48 made me realize how much of my current computing needs can be satisfied by ChromeOS. I already read all my email through various Google and Google Apps accounts, for example, and Google Docs is perfectly adequate for taking notes during a meeting.
At the same time, though, Google Docs is still not able to handle complex documents. For those, I prefer Microsoft’s Office Web apps, but those apps are – of course – not as tightly integrated with Gmail as Google’s own productivity apps.
Thanks to Seesmic and the new online version of TweetDeck, the Cr-48 satisfies all my Twitter needs, and as a long-time MOG subscriber, all my music needs are fulfilled as well. For blog posts, I can just write in the WordPress and MovableType online editors. And for the most part, that’s all I do with my laptop today anyway, so the Cr-48 turned out to be all I needed during my last business trip earlier this week (thanks, fittingly, to Delta’s Google-sponsored free in-flight wireless, too).
But Would I Use it as My Only Laptop? Probably Not Yet
That said, though, would I use the Cr-48 and/or ChromeOS as my one and only notebook anytime soon? Probably not – while it fulfills a good chunk of my day-to-day computing needs, there are those four or five apps I need (like Skitch for screenshots and Skype for VoIP calls) that just don’t run on ChromeOS today. A full switch to Google’s new operating system really isn’t an option yet – though with time, as more ChromeOS apps become available – this could change.
For now, ChromeOS is an interesting experiment and I fully expect to continue using the Cr-48 as a secondary notebook when I head out to the local coffee shop.