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5/11/2011
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Google 'Chromebooks' Promise Era Of Managed Computing

Chrome OS laptops introduced at Google I/O and will be available with managed software and hardware subscriptions.

Google Chrome OS Promises Computing Without Pain
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Google Chrome OS Promises Computing Without Pain
At its annual developer conference in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, Google said that Chrome OS notebooks, now called "Chromebooks," will be available in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain starting June 15, and that it will be offering a combined software and hardware subscription service for businesses, schools, and government customers.

The pricing of Google's subscription plan is modest: For $28 per user per month, businesses will receive Chromebooks, Web-based administration controls, enterprise-level support, a warranty, and hardware replacement upon subscription renewal. Schools and governments have access to the subscription package for $20 per user per month.

Access to Google Apps for Business is not included; it will continue to be offered for $50 per user per year.

Consumers will be able to buy Chromebooks made by either Acer or Samsung online from Amazon and Best Buy in the U.S., and from other retailers internationally. Samsung's Chromebook starts at $429 and Acer's starts at $349.

"Chrome with Chrome OS and Chromebooks is venturing into a really new model of computing that I don't think was possible previously," said Google co-founder Sergey Brin at a news conference following the keynote.

That model involves jettisoning the legacy pain points of PC-era computing: lengthy start-up and set-up time, security worries, device and data management challenges, and general complexity. Google's answer is to integrate software and hardware--to enhance security, through a verified boot process, for example--and to help make managing the computing experience easier.

"The complexity of managing your computers is really torturing users out there, all of us," Brin said. "It's a flawed model, fundamentally. And I think Chromebooks are a new model that doesn't put the burden of managing your computer on yourself. And companies that don't use [the Chrome OS] model, I don't think will be successful."

On Tuesday, it seemed as if Chrome OS had been forgotten. During a keynote devoted to Android-related announcements, Hugo Barra director of Android product management, said, "We want one OS that runs everywhere."

At a press conference later that day, Andy Rubin, who helms Google's Android group, was asked about this and insisted Barra had said "one Android OS." On Tuesday at the post-keynote press conference, Google's speakers were asked twice to clarify whether the company's two operating systems were in competition.

Sundar Pichai, SVP of Chrome, said the company "focused on creating a very different, unique computing experience that's focused on the Web." He noted how easily he could switch from Gmail on Android to Gmail on a Chromebook. "We're comfortable seeing them co-exist."

Pichai during the keynote said that Google's research suggests most companies could move 75% of their employees to Chrome OS today.

In conjunction with the announcement of a launch date for Chromebooks, Pichai and other Google personnel revealed that its Chrome browser, the basis for Chrome OS, has over 160 million users worldwide, highlighted Chrome's recent speed gains, and promised offline functionality for Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Gmail this summer.

Google also is disrupting the app market. Having announced that 17 million Web apps have been installed from the Chrome Web Store in the past three months, Vikas Gupta, product manager for Google's payments team, said that Google will require only a 5% cut of Web app revenue in the Chrome Web Store. This is significantly less than the 30% cut taken by Apple, Amazon, Google's Android Market, and other online app stores.

"We're all for lower taxes, and 5% is fair," said Peter Vesterbacka, CEO of Rovio Mobile, which has brought its popular Angry Birds game to the Chrome Web Store.

That, in essence, is the Chrome OS value proposition: minimizing the taxing aspects of computing.

"Chrome OS really lowers the cost of high-quality computing and frees up people's time to do other things," explained Brin.

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