Google's Chromebooks will be appealing for consumers and businesses interested in moving to the cloud computing model. Just how many are willing to leave their Windows environment for Chrome OS is unclear.
For anyone who came away from Google I/O believing Google
(GOOG:NASDAQ) was entering the hardware computer business with some stripped-down notebooks,
they were mistaken.
Certainly, Google officials touted
Samsung and Acer notebooks based on the company's Chrome Operating
System for running applications strictly in the cloud, hosted on Google's
The Samsung Series 5 Chromebook will sport a 12.1-inch
screen and will cost $429 for WiFi-only; the WiFi+3G model will run $499.
Acer's 11.6-inch model Chromebook will have fewer bells and whistles and will
run $349. The first Chromebooks will be available June 15 online from Best Buy
Most analysts barely blinked at the value proposition the
company touted: Web OS based machines that boot in 8 seconds and only enough
local storage for caching.
"I think they're doomed," IDC analyst Bob
O'Donnell told eWEEK. "They are essentially consumer wireless thin clients
that depend completely on a constant internet connection and web-based apps.
While we have some of that, it's far, far, far from ubiquitous. As a point of
reference, the entire worldwide market for wireless thin clients last year was
around 50,000 units."
Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, who looks
at the potential impact of computing devices from the consumers' standpoint, noted
that the appeal of Chromebooks at current price points is limited, partially
because the devices themselves will prove limiting for users.
"On the reference design I tested [the CR-48, which
though similar in hardware though not as full-featured as the models shipping
from Samsung and Acer], you can't use any local software, install drivers to
printers, download files from USB flash drives..." Epps told eWEEK.
This holds true for the current Samsung and Acer
machines, which use only a minimal amount of flash storage for local caching.
These machines also leverage Google Cloud Print, the Web-based printing service
many have found great when it works and useless when it doesn't.
Those who have a Canon Powershot or some other digital
camera and want to port their photos from those cameras to a Chromebook won't
be able to. How about using a desktop sharing application, such as Citrix GoToMeeting?
Sorry, a Chromebook isn't the right machine for you.
Rajen Sheth, group product manager for Chrome OS for
business, said Google hoped to convey that the Chrome OS value proposition is
the cloud, not the elegant yet minimalistic shells made by leading computer makers.
"Where this is going to be successful, is places
where people are moving to their Web as their primary means of interacting with
applications," Sheth told eWEEK. "More and more applications that
used to be only on the desktop are being moved to the browser."
One of those places where Chromebooks thrive is at reseller
Appirio, where the majority of their computing operations are run in the cloud.
The company uses Google Apps for collaboration, Salesforce.com for customer
relationship management and WorkDay for human resource management, CTO Glenn
Weinstein told eWEEK.
Appirio is a pilot partner for Google's Cr-48 Chromebook,
with 250 U.S. employees using the machines since January. With the exception of
desktop sharing apps, such as Citrix GotoMeeting, Appirio workers used Chromebooks
for just about every work function that involves a computer, including Google
Docs, Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Chat.
Weinstein added that Appirio, one of Google's top
reseller partners, would love to not only use Samsung and Acer Chromebooks in
house, but to begin selling them to partners.
"The cost of ownership of Chromebook is an order of
magnitude below the cost of a laptop. We would love to accrue that savings internally
and pass them on to our customers," Weinstein said.
Chromebooks, Weinstein explained, simplify the IT
experience, saving IT managers the trouble of software distribution,
antivirus patrols, laptop ghosting and hardware imaging, among other tasks.