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TECH NEWS: Google Showcases Its Chrome OS Laptops

Source: WSJ

Posted on 08 Dec 2010

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Internet giant Google Inc. demonstrated the first laptops running on the company's coming Chrome operating system, a move that challenges Microsoft Corp.'s lucrative Windows franchise.

The computers use operating-system software that is based largely on Google's Chrome Web browser. The computers are designed primarily to run Web-based applications, as Google hopes to shift software development away from applications anchored to personal-computer operating systems such as Windows.

Because they rely on Web-based apps, the Chrome devices boot up in a matter of seconds. But the laptops will have limited capability when users aren't online. "We're delivering nothing but the Web," said Sundar Pichai, a Google vice president who led the Chrome team, at a launch event in San Francisco.

Laptops running what Google calls Chrome OS will first be manufactured by Acer Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. and will go on sale in mid-2011, Mr. Pichai said. He didn't offer pricing information. Other manufacturers are also building devices running the software, he said.

Perfecting Chrome OS has taken longer than expected, and Google executives said the company was fixing various problems and implementing features that are currently missing. The company previously said its hardware partners planned to introduce Chrome devices to consumers by the end of 2010.

Google said it is launching a pilot program where it will give out test notebook PCs running Chrome to qualified users, developers, schools and businesses. "We're not done yet" refining the software, "but Chrome OS is at the stage where we need feedback from real users," wrote Mr. Pichai and Linus Upson, a Google vice president of engineering, in a blog post.

Chrome-powered laptops, which sport conventional keyboards, bear some resemblance to low-priced laptops called netbooks that emerged in the past few years. That category has cooled considerably of late, in part because of buyer enthusiasm over tablet-style devices such as Apple Inc.'s iPad.

The Google Android software used on smartphones, which can be commanded with touch gestures on a screen, is being adapted by some manufacturers for use in tablets. Andy Rubin, the Google vice president who heads the Android effort, on Monday demonstrated a Motorola Inc. prototype tablet powered by a coming version of Android—dubbed Honeycomb—that is being tailored for tablets.

To ensure that Chrome laptops always stay online, Google said it is working with Verizon Wireless to offer free wireless Internet connectivity—allowing users to send and receive up to 100 megabytes of data every month for two years. More robust Verizon data plans are available for purchase starting at $9.99 a month, Google said.

Like its Android operating software for mobile devices, Google is licensing Chrome OS to hardware makers for free. Microsoft typically charges hardware makers a fee to sell devices with Windows. A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment.

Google also launched an online applications market called the Chrome Web store that includes apps from news organizations, game makers such as Electronic Arts Inc., e-commerce companies including Inc. and other developers that can run on the Chrome browser. The apps make use of the latest browser technology to offer richer graphics, among other things.

Some of the Chrome apps are free while others are available for a fee, similar to the app markets for Apple and Android mobile devices.

The company will take 5% of revenue generated by app developers, less than the typical 30% revenue share for Android and Apple app stores.

Though the new software will not directly generate revenue, the Google search engine is built into the Chrome browser so distribution of the operating software could help maintain Google's core business. And the Chrome Web store will feature Google's own online applications such as Google Docs, a word-processing program, and Google Maps. Mr. Pichai said Google also was considering selling Chrome OS directly to companies for a fee.

With Chrome, Google is also making a play at the corporate market. It showed how workers could access their companies' software such as Microsoft Excel directly through the Chrome browser on Chrome devices.

For example, Citrix Systems, which helps banks, retailers and other companies access their business software from the Internet, said on Tuesday that

its customers could reach their Microsoft data and documents through Chrome.
Google already challenges Microsoft in the area of business software by selling a suite of programs such as its email product Gmail and Google Docs, among others, to try to compete with Microsoft's Office suite of programs.

Greg Sterling an analyst with the research firm Sterling Market Intelligence, said Chrome OS laptops, which are expected to cost less than many other laptops, could be "very appealing" to businesses.

"The speed of Internet access is compelling," says Jeff Barney, a vice president at Toshiba America Information Systems, which is building a Chrome laptop. "Chrome is a vision of always being in touch" and is a fast way to access online content, he said.