The introduction of the black, unbranded Cr-48 netbook running an early version of Chrome OS was at once the highlight of Google's Chrome event on Tuesday and the least important aspect of the arrival of Google's browser-based operating system.
Google this week begins shipping thousands of these devices to consumers, businesses and schools as part of its Chrome OS pilot program. The company will reportedly be receiving 60,000 netbooks from Taiwanese manufacturer Inventec.
The tech industry has long relied on the fetishization of new hardware to move merchandise. And the tech press exploits consumers' desire for ever more powerful, capable devices by presenting new gear in their own version of strip shows: unboxing photo sequences.
But Google's Cr-48 is singularly ill-suited to this paradigm. It's an anonymous black portable computer that could have been made any contract manufacturer. And really, it doesn't matter who made it. The hardware has become all but irrelevant to Google. For Google, it's about the cloud.
"Cloud computing will essentially define computing as we all know it," said CEO Eric Schmidt at the Chrome media event.
Acer and Samsung will insist that hardware matters when their Chrome OS netbooks are released in mid-2011. And it will, to a point. Even low-end netbooks won't be completely commoditized. But for Web browsing, hardware won't matter nearly as much as wireless network connectivity and reliability. It will take a back seat to the Web.
Google VP of product management Sundar Pichai describes Chrome OS as "nothing but the Web." For Chrome OS, less is more: fewer maintenance problems than traditional PCs, fewer security problems, less waiting for machines to startup and wake from sleep, and less opportunity for users to degrade their machines by installing unnecessary or suspect software.
In the world of Chrome OS, the machine shouldn't matter. Users should be able to log on from any machine, at home, at work, at a friend's house, or on the go, and be productive.
This scenario that's likely to appeal to those who don't care about, or have other options for, running demanding local applications, like high-end computer games or 3D rendering applications. And it's already of interest to IT decision makers in businesses and other organizations.
Bryson Koehler, SVP for global revenue and guest technology at InterContinental Hotels, affirmed that in a Google blog post on Wednesday.
"The speed, simplicity and security benefits of this pure cloud computing model were too compelling to resist, particularly in contrast to the costs and hassles of desktop computing," he wrote.
Koehler anticipates Chrome OS netbooks reducing costs in call centers, enhancing the security of hotel business service centers, and being added to the list of generic appliances like hair dryers that hotels can provide to guests.