One of the big announcements at Google's I/O developer conference is the release of notebooks running the search giant's Chrome OS.
What, exactly, is a Chromebook? Is it just like a netbook?
'Chromebook' is the term starting to be bandied around by Google and others to describe the laptops designed to use the Chrome operating system. A netbook refers to a mini-laptop (generally models with up to 10.1-inch displays) with not-too-powerful specifications that runs a regular desktop operating system (usually some version of Windows). We expect you will be able to buy a Chromebook in all kinds of sizes; one of the initial offerings has a 12.1-inch display, which makes it larger than a netbook.
How does Chrome OS differ from Windows, Mac OS X and regular Linux-based operating systems ?
Chrome OS is based on Gentoo Linux. Unlike most desktop operating systems, it is designed to run apps delivered over the Web. This focus on SaaS delivery means we should thank our lucky stars they didn't get called Cloudbooks. This focus on Cloud-delivered applications - what old school types might simply call "things you access over the internet" - means the operating system complements other Google offerings, such as its online office suite Google Docs. Google's Chrome Web Store already offers a wide variety of Web-based apps, including, most importantly, Angry Birds.
Does Chrome OS have advantages when it comes to accessing Web apps?
Chrome OS is a lightweight, stripped-down operating system. This means, for example, that Chromebooks can have an extremely quick boot time (eight seconds, according to Google). In addition, there are security advantages for organisations that deploy them, thanks to end users' inability to install local applications and the sandboxing of different apps. Local data stored on a Chromebook is encrypted for extra security. Google is working on "Chromoting", which will offer remote access to PCs running Windows and Mac OS X. Citrix will also release its Receiver software for Chrome OS.
Who will make Chromebooks?
Samsung and Acer are both confirmed to be producing Chromebooks, at least for the US market. Samsung will produce a 12.1-inch model that will be sold in both Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi and 3G models. The former will cost $US429 in the US, while the latter will be priced at $US499, with 3G connectivity offered through Verizon. Acer's Chromebook will cost $US349 and include 3G (also through Verizon). 100MB per month of 3G data through Verizon is included in these prices. Orders for the notebooks will open on 15 June, through Best Buy and Amazon.
Which countries will Chromebooks be available in?
According to Google you will be able to buy a Chromebook in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the US and the UK. Google plans to make further announcements regarding availability in other countries.
What's this I hear about "hardware as a service"?
Chromebooks will be sold in a standard fashion but also be available on a subscription plan from Google. These subscriptions will start at $US28 per Chromebook for business users in the US. Public sector organisations and schools will be able to get Chromebooks for $US20 per user. These prices include include support and end-of-life equipment replacement. Centralised administration of an organisation's Chromebooks through a Web control panel and automatic OS updates are further carrots for IT managers. According to Google, pilot customers for the Chrome OS project include American Airlines, Groupon, Lotitech, Virgin America and Salesforce.com. Google senior vice-president for Chrome, Sundar Pichai, has described the subscription model as "software and hardware as a service".
Are you sick of the term Cloud?
Yes. Yes we are.
Additional reporting by IDG staff.
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