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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

May 11, 2011 at 11:01 AM

Google Chromebooks: $300 to $500 thin clients unveiled

Here’s a look at the Google Chromebooks that will go on sale June 15.

They’re laptops running Google’s Chrome operating system, which is primarily a browser that connects users to applications that run mostly online.

In many ways, it’s the latest iteration of the “network computer” concept that Oracle and Sun Microsystems floated a decade ago. It’s also similar to the “thin client” systems used by call centers and some businesses, which give users a barebones terminal for working with applications stored and managed centrally on a network.

Chrome has been in broad testing since Google distributed prototype laptops running the system last December.

Today at its I/O conference, Google announced that the Chromebooks will be available at retail for $300 to $500. They’ll also be available for schools to rent from Google for $20 per student per month and for businesses for $28 per seat per month.

(Update: A Google Q&A page has more details. Notably the rented machines require a three-year contract, so schools and companies will end up paying around $1,000 to borrow a low-powered, barebones netbook.

Monthly prices are a bit higher for some models – they cost $31 and $33 per month with a 3G wireless card. The 3G subscriptions cost extra. Also, businesses and schools must lease a minimum of 10 machines, and they won’t be able to directly load any apps onto the machines, change the browser or run Java or Silverlight.)

Google also announced that it’s going to give app developers 95 percent of the sales made from apps sold via its Chrome store, potentially starting a price competition with Apple, Amazon.com and other app stores that give developers 70 percent.

Google’s cachet will no doubt help sell millions of Chromebooks. But before taking the plunge, I suggest trying one of these devices out.

The simplicity of a Chromebook is appealing, but it can also be maddeningly limiting when you’re used to storing and managing your photos, documents and other digital materials on your computer and Chrome makes you upload and handle everything online.

For the same price, you can buy a full-power laptop or one of the new dual-core netbooks that have more capabilities and don’t require you to funnel your activities and files through the Web.

Here are images of the first Chromebooks, from Samsung and Acer, which both have netbook-grade Atom processors and 16 gigabyte solid-state drives (fast but tiny, because you pretty much have to store your files on Google’s servers and not on your Chromebook).

The Samsung:

samsung-td-640x485.png

samsung-series5-backleft-640x458.png

The Samsung specs:

12.1″ (1280 x 800) display

3.26 lbs

8.5 hours of continuous usage

Intel Atom dual-core processor

Built-in dual-band Wi-Fi and world-mode 3G (optional)

HD Webcam with noise canceling microphone

2 USB 2.0 ports

4-in-1 memory card slot

Mini-VGA port

Fullsize Chrome keyboard

Oversize fully-clickable trackpad

The Acer:

acer-zgb-leftangle-640x393.png

acer-zgb-leftclosed-640x299.png

The Acer specs:

11.6″ HD widescreen LED-backlit LCD

2.95 lbs..

6 hours of continuous usage

Intel Atom dual-core processor

Built-in dual-band Wi-Fi and world-mode 3G (optional)

HD Webcam with noise canceling microphone

High-definition audio support

2 USB 2.0 ports

4-in-1 memory card slot

HDMI port

Fullsize Chrome keyboard

Oversize fully clickable trackpad

Here’s Google’s announcement video:

Comments | Topics: Chrome OS, Google

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