Google makes history with first browser-powered notebooks

12 May 2011

Internet giant Google has taken the wrappers off its first notebook computers, the Chromebooks which will run entirely on the Chrome browser and will be made by Samsung and Acer. Launching in June they will cost US$20 a month for students and US$28 a month for business users.

Having dabbled with a Chrome-powered laptop earlier this year at CES, the browser powered notebooks feel a little strange at first; that’s if you’ve spent most of your adult computing life working through the filter of Windows or Apple operating systems. A little like cycling a bike using an games controller instead of handlebars, if that makes any sense.

According to Google the new Chromebooks will last a day of use on a single charge and will come with Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity.

The new Chromebooks will have many layers of security built in so there is no anti-virus software to buy and maintain.

At the core of each Chromebook is the Chrome web browser.

The new Chromebooks will be available online 15 June in the US, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain. More countries will follow in the coming months, Google promised.

In the US, Chromebooks will be available from Amazon and Best Buy and internationally from leading retailers.

Monthly subscriptions will start at US$28 per user for businesses and US$20 per user for schools.

A serious play by Google

While the idea of the Chromebook – a notebook that is managed entirely by a web browser – sounds novel at first, it is clear Google is putting serious muscle into this and has done its preparation in terms of making an impact on the enterprise and consumer computing worlds.

Think about it for a second, this is actually an historic moment in the history of computing.

The world’s first internet browser computers are coming to market. Who knows yet if this is a game-changer but no doubt serious minds in Redmond and 1 Infinite Loop, Silicon Valley, are watching this warily. Affordable computing without paying hand over first for expensive software … hmmm.

“With a Chromebook you won’t wait minutes for your computer to boot and browser to start,” Google engineering VP Linus Upson said in the company’s blog. “You’ll be reading your email in seconds. Thanks to automatic updates the software on your Chromebook will get faster over time. Your apps, games, photos, music, movies and documents will be accessible wherever you are and you won’t need to worry about losing your computer or forgetting to back up files.”

But still there will need to be a learning curve for users who are used the traditional problems with computers and operating systems and have learned the hard way (usually hitting Control+Alt+Delete and starting a Task Manager).

It also remains to be seen if the experience will be a flawless one, as in zero hardware problems if the processor becomes over-taxed or there’s not enough memory – wait, this is a browser computer, shouldn’t the internet take the strain?

“The web has millions of applications and billions of users,” explained Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Chrome in the same blog.

“Trying a new application or sharing it with friends is as easy as clicking a link. A world of information can be searched instantly and developers can embed and mash-up applications to create new products and services. The web is on just about every computing device made, from phones to TVs, and has the broadest reach of any platform. With HTML5 and other open standards, web applications will soon be able to do anything traditional applications can do, and more.

“Even with dedicated IT departments, businesses and schools struggle with the same complex, costly and insecure computers as the rest of us.”

To address this, Google is also announcing Chromebooks for Business and Education. This service from Google includes Chromebooks and a cloud management console to remotely administer and manage users, devices, applications and policies. Also included is enterprise-level support, device warranties and replacements as well as regular hardware refreshes.

“There are over 160 million active users of Chrome today. Chromebooks bring you all of Chrome’s speed, simplicity and security without the headaches of operating systems designed 20 to 30 years ago,” Pichai promised.

Acer Chromebook

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years