Google Chromebooks Will Test Cloud Mettle of Consumers, Businesses

Analysts debate the merit of notebooks based on Google's Chrome Operating System, which are coming June 15 from Samsung and Acer via Best Buy and

Google is perhaps making no bigger gamble on its cloud-computing reputation than with the launch of notebooks based on its Chrome operating system.

Chrome OS, the search-engine giant's Web-based platform for computers, eschews the traditional, localized platform and long-running BIOS startup process of Microsoft Windows laptops for Web applications and machines with minimal Flash storage that load within 8 seconds.

Google officials unveiled notebooks from Samsung and Acer at the Google I/O developer conference May 11. 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.

Both Chromebooks will retail online June 15 at Amazon and Best Buy in the U.S., as well as in the U.K., France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain.

While the consumer model is a traditional one-time purchase, Google is trying something new for businesses and schools: Chromebooks as a subscription service.

Businesses may procure machines in bulk for $28 per user, per month. Schools may do the same for $20 per user, per month. Each plan requires a three-year service agreement that includes a warranty, support, service and hardware replacements when necessary.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa said he could see such a model becoming more mainstream. The issue, he argued, is whether consumers are comfortable being completely dependent on the cloud.

"The way these systems are architected, it appears that their viability pivots on connectivity," Hilwa told eWEEK. "There is no doubt that we will see more and more things done in the cloud over time but I see this as an incremental transition.

eWEEK received hands-on time with the Samsung Series 5, which comes in Arctic White or Titan Silver, weighs only 3.3 pounds and booted within eight seconds. The SuperBright screen was crisp and clear, and well-suited for use outdoors. Web applications installed and loaded very quickly.

Jefferies & Co analyst Peter Misek was less sanguine about Google's ambitious plan, with respect to the inherent tensions it may create between Chrome OS and Google's Android operating system, which leverages the cloud for smartphones and tablet computers.