Google Chromebooks Now Available as $30-a-Month Rentals for Businesses

Google is making businesses a deal they might not be able to refuse: The search giant is now renting out Chromebooks for $30 a month for short-term users.

Google is getting into the Chromebook rental business by offering the devices to businesses on a no-contract basis for $30 a month so users can try them and use the devices to get their work done on the cloud.

The idea aims to help companies learn how Chromebooks can help their workers and add flexibility to their IT deployments without investing large sums of cash, wrote Google Chrome for Business product manager Divya Agarwalla in a Sept. 5 post on the Google Enterprise Blog.

"Since launch, our vision for Chromebooks has been to bring the simplicity, flexibility and affordability of cloud computing to the personal computer," wrote Agarwalla. "Auto-updates, the Chrome management console, and browser sync have brought us closer. Today, we're bringing the cloud model to the hardware itself by trialing a Chromebook rental program, in conjunction with financing partner CIT."

For businesses, the rental program could be useful when temporary workers are brought in, allowing companies to rent a Chromebook for each worker for a few months and returning them when the work is completed, Agarwalla wrote. "Chromebooks meet the needs of most workers, making this rental program a great option for companies with seasonal workers, larger organizations that want to pilot Chromebooks, fast-growing startups and any company looking to preserve cash."

Chromebook rentals start at $30 per month and go down over time, according to Google, while Chromebox compact desktop rentals start at $25 per month. Rentals, which are month-to-month without any long-term commitment, include Chrome hardware with a three-year limited warranty, Web-based Chrome management console for management and 24/7 support.

Chromebooks and Chromeboxes run Google's Chrome operating system and feature a wide range of preinstalled, cloud-based Google services and products, including Google Docs and Google Calendar.

Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, said the new Chromebook rental program could offer some compelling possibilities for business users.

"The no-long-term-commitment feature is going to be seen well" by companies that might be tight on cash, said King. "A lot of companies that are evaluating their plans for laptop upgrades would find this very attractive. So you get a dozen of them, and you try them out. If they don't work out, you're not stuck with a lot of hardware getting moldy in the corner."

And by selling the devices directly to businesses without a middleman, Google can make the distribution process easier and bypass the traditional sales channel, said King.

The rental offering is an extension of what IT people have long described as the "good-enough computing argument," said King. "As Microsoft continues to develop increasingly complex operating systems and business applications, it seems to me that the arguments for simple, eloquent programs, including basic word processing, basic messaging and basic spreadsheets are stronger than ever before."

For Google, it's a business model they've been preparing to fill for a while, said King. "Google is in a great spot to do that. This is not crazy. Both individuals and companies can consider this a good thing to be doing."

Mark Levitt, an analyst with Strategy Analytics, said the Chromebook rental program "makes sense when your organization is completely running up in the clouds, running your messaging, productivity and other tools."

"The Chromebook is a unique animal," said Levitt. "The Chromebook is essentially an extension of Google Apps and an extension of Google. It's a device focused on Google cloud computing. With the right price and the right environment, it's definitely worth a look." That setting is likely a business where you have good connectivity and the need for a locked-down environment for workers to access applications in the Google cloud with few distractions, he said.

Business and government users are already trying out some innovative things using Chromebooks, according to Google. Transportation company QDI is giving Chromebooks to operational managers in truck depots to coordinate driver loads, while the School of Rock, a music school with more than 90 locations, has adopted Chromebooks to cut costs, administrative overhead, security and reliability issues, wrote Agarwalla. Meanwhile, the library system in Palo Alto, Calif., began a new program where patrons can check out Chromebooks for a week, just like a library book.

Chromebooks, which are still generally slow in being adopted by consumers, are also being used in schools around the United States. Hundreds of schools in 41 of the 52 states are providing the devices for their students, including nearly 27,000 students in school districts in Iowa, Illinois and South Carolina.