Chromebooks have found fans and detractors, but Google's new operating system isn't really a hardware story.
Slideshow: Samsung Chromebook: Hands-On Visual Tour
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Chrome OS hardware finally went on sale this week, in the form of the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook, and Google is pleased with the way things have been going. The company isn't yet ready to discuss sales specifics but company insiders insist sales look good and there's corporate interest.
"We've been very pleased with the response to the Chromebooks subscription model since we launched," a Google spokesperson said in an email. "We officially opened for business two days ago (i.e., Wednesday) and there are businesses and schools signing order forms as we speak."
Over at Amazon.com, the Series 5 is ranked #10 on the list of Bestsellers in Computers & Accessories and appears likely to slip further down that list as initial demand wanes. Among the 12 customer reviews submitted so far, four suggest five stars, six suggest four stars, one suggests three stars, and one suggests one star.
Of three Series 5 reviews posted on BestBuy.com, there's a five-star, a four-star, and a three-star review.
Not bad for a product awaiting the delivery of a critical feature--the ability to function when offline. But not an unassailable success either.
The main issue for many is the price: $499 for the 3G Series 5 is frequently cited as too high. There's no shortage of other complaints either, although these often say more about personal technological preferences than anything else.
That's okay though, since Chromebooks aren't really ready for the consumer mass market. Google wasn't expecting the sort of frenzy that has accompanied iPad launches. There's not that much demand among consumers for a device that can render Web pages--something any modern PC can do--and Google has made no move to launch a large-scale marketing campaign to create such demand.
Google is making a long-term bet, a bet that has very little to do with hardware. Though Samsung has crafted an appealing notebook computer, Chrome OS hardware is meant to be more or less interchangeable. Note that Google's pitch for Chromebooks, "Nothing but the Web," describes a scene in which hardware is absent.
The hardware has to be discussed, poked, and prodded, but it's a sideshow. When it comes to web technology, gigahertz and core counts aren't nearly as important as WebGL, Canvas, and other HTML5 elements that make web apps competitive performance-wise with apps written for Android, Mac OS, iOS, and Windows.
Chromebooks are first and foremost a frame for the web and Google's Chrome browser, where Google ads flower into a revenue stream that is the envy of the tech industry. Second, they're PC-free, in the sense that Chromebooks (mostly) lack the maintenance and security issues that accompany PC ownership.
The main mission for the Chromebook is to offer an alternative to businesses and schools that might otherwise purchase PCs. With software like Ericom AccessNow and Citrix Receiver, organizations can offer easily managed Chromebooks to employees or students while also providing access to PC applications on virtualized desktops, at a total annual cost that's perhaps a quarter of what it costs to buy and maintain a PC.
Chromebooks will also find fans among consumers committed to living in the cloud, so to speak. That's a small group right now, but it will grow as more applications move online and more people become acclimated to life without local file management.
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Google in the Enterprise SurveyThere's no doubt Google has made headway into businesses: Just 28 percent discourage or ban use of its productivity products, and 69 percent cite Google Apps' good or excellent mobility. But progress could still stall: 59 percent of nonusers distrust the security of Google's cloud. Its data privacy is an open question, and 37 percent worry about integration.