SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Lookout Windows and hard-drive
makers, the Chromebook is here. The Google notebook named for its Chrome Web
browser hopes to make good on the long sought concept of the thin-client
Google officially announced at its annual developer conference
that Acer and Samsung will begin shipping in June the systems that use only
Web-based apps and services. The systems do not need Windows or hard disk
Google will even act as a data carrier, selling to business and
education full packages of hardware, management software and services for $28
and $20 a month, respectively for a three-year contract. In the US, Verizon will provide a data plan for up to 100 Mbytes/month for free, charging extra only for users who want more data. Retailers will sell
the systems direct to consumers for prices ranging from $349 to $499.
The Chromebook aims to boot faster (eight seconds), be more
secure, easier to manage and lower cost than traditional notebooks. All the
systems initially use a dual-core Intel Atom processor.
Google founder Sergey Brin, on hand for a press Q&A
here, said in the next year he expects the majority of Google's employees will
use Chromebooks. Today they mainly use Windows 7 PCs, he said.
In an effort to limit the number of chips it must support, Google
qualified each chip in the two Chromebooks which had to pass a performance test
for the targeted OEM systems. Google has not yet decided whether it will make
its list of approved chips available.
Right now the systems only use a dual-core Atom processor.
However, the partners are considering an Intel Core i3 chip for a higher
performance desktop box being designed by Samsung and an ARM SoC for a future
lower power, ultra-thin mobile system.
The partners are concerned many current ARM SoCs may not
meet performance requirements. They are currently aiming to test a quad-core Nvidia
Tegra3 as a leading candidate.
One way the current Chromebook hardware differs from a conventional notebook is that they
require support for a hardware root of trust as part of the boot
process. They also use a unique, secure fast path for boot transactions.
One of the selling points of the systems for business users is their higher level of security than conventional PCs. The Chromebooks also have a protected file system which by design prevents download of malware.
For years, computer executives from Sun's Scott McNealy to
Oracle's Larry Ellison have pursued the dream of a simpler client computer. Whether
Google can succeed where they have failed remains to be seen, but Google
appears to be covering all the bases and the technology has matured to the level
where a Web-only system is becoming viable.
"The complexity of managing your computers is torturing
all of us--it’s a flawed model and Chromebooks are a new model that doesn’t put
the burden of managing your computer on yourself," said Brin. "Companies
who don’t use that model won't be successful," he said.
"This model doesn’t say just 'Trust Google'" with your data, Brin said, answetring a question about privacy and control. "You are using Google's Chrome browser, but you can go to any Web site out there and they can provide you great functionality--you can go to Bing search or Yahoo," he said.
At a press event, one Samsung marketing manager said the partners hope to sell a total of as many as a million Chromebooks in the first 12 months. But other execs said that such a figure would exceed their expectations.
Sundar Pichai announced the Chromebook at Google I/O.