December 8, 2010

Chrome-Powered Notebooks Due Mid-2011

Laptops running Google Inc.'s Chrome operating system are expected to hit the market next year, as the company gears up to challenge industry giants Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. in consumer and business computing.

Google unveiled an unbranded Chrome-powered notebook on Tuesday as part of a pilot program to test a computing model that moves operating software onto the Internet "cloud."

"For us, it is a long journey building a true cloud computing model," said Sundar Pichai, Google's vice president of product management, while demonstrating the system at a press event in San Francisco. "That is what we are working on."

Google is holding off the formal launch of its Chrome-powered computers until the middle of next year, giving the company time to fix some software bugs and ensure the machines are compatible with other devices, Pichai said.

"Amazing progress, but we aren't fully done yet," he said.

"If I'm shooting for one holiday season, I wouldn't be working on it. This is a journey," Pichai told Reuters.

Prices of the Web-centric laptops have not yet been determined, said executives when asked if the notebook computers might be less expensive than traditional computers that come with storage and processing hardware.

"You will see a variety of notebook price units," Pichai said.

Samsung Electronics and Acer will make the first Chrome laptops, while the processors in the first batch will come from Intel Corp., Reuters reported.  The laptops will also initially include 100 megabytes of free wireless data transfers per month for two years, courtesy of Verizon Wireless.

The Chrome-powered laptops are expected to promote Web-centric computing, in which online applications replace software loaded onto PCs.

As part of its computing initiative, Google opened an Internet store on Tuesday that sells about 500 games, news and other software applications for Chrome.  The company will earn 5 percent on every application sold through the online store, enough to cover its costs, while most of the revenue will go to the applications' developers.

Google did not disclose how the Chrome operating system would contribute to the company's profits.  It currently offers its Android operating system for smartphones and tablet computers for free, but earns revenue through mobile advertising. 

As with Android mobile phones, the Chrome software is expected to drive more people to use the Internet, which could help boost Google's Internet ads business.

"Success is tens of millions of users using these products. That's what we work toward," said Pichai.

In October, Apple announced that it would open an applications store for its Macintosh computers as the company works to duplicate the success of iPhone apps. That store is expected to launch in early 2011.

Google has started a pilot program under which it is distributing Chrome-powered prototype computers to schools, businesses, developers and other users with the goal of gathering feedback. The all-black "CR 48" prototypes include 12.1-inch screens, 3G connectivity and Web cams.

The Chrome Internet browser, on which the operating system is based, currently has 120 million users, according to Google executives.   That figure was 70 million in May, Reuters reported.

Shares of Google's stock closed up 1.5 percent at $587.14 on Tuesday.


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