Will Chrome netbooks really be competitive?

Will Chrome netbooks really be competitive?

Summary: Acer, which last quarter overtook Dell to become the world's second-largest PC manufacturer, is known as an aggressive company. So it's little surprise that the company's chairman, J.

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Acer, which last quarter overtook Dell to become the world's second-largest PC manufacturer, is known as an aggressive company. So it's little surprise that the company's chairman, J.T. Wang, vowed this week that Acer would be first to release a netbook using Google's Chrome OS sometime in the middle of next year. How big a deal this really is remains to be seen.

Acer is the same company that, back in June, promised it would be first to ship a netbook using Google's other OS, Android. In October, Acer made good on its promise by releasing a version of its Aspire One D150, a 10.1-inch netbook, with Android. But it turned out to be a dual-boot system that relied--like most netbooks--on Windows XP. Android simply provides an alternative way to access to a few functions such as Gmail, Web browsing and Google Calendar--in effect it works like the other Linux-based pre-boot operating systems found on several laptops and netbooks. Since Android was really designed for smartphones, it also has some serious limitations as a netbook OS. For example, the Firefox browser does not support Flash, and you can't open attachments, edit documents, access a USB drive or print.

There's good reason to believe that Chrome OS will be a more formidable challenger. Google is clearly taking the time to make sure that Chrome has the basic performance, security and features that users expect in a netbook by the time it ships sometime in the second half of 2010. And it is working with a broader group of PC manufacturers including not only Acer, but also Asus, HP, Lenovo, Toshiba and, it seems, Dell. Though they are refer to future products as netbooks, Google says it is pushing for slightly larger displays--most likely ranging from 11.6- to 13.3 inches--and full-size keyboards to improve usability, which means they'll probably look similar to the low-cost, ultra-thin laptops that are becoming more prevalent. All of this should add up to a more competitive product.

But Google execs also seem to be downplaying expectations a bit. They've been describing the Chrome OS netbook as a companion product for people that already own one or more PCs, rather than a primary computer. Chrome OS will work only on a limited set of hardware. And most recently, one of Google's lead engineers told CNET that the company is working with printer manufacturers to come up with some way to avoid developing Chrome OS drivers for every printer model on the market--a hint of just how hard it will be to offer broad hardware compatibility.

Despite its flaws, the x86 Windows ecosystem is proving to be very hard to replace. Nokia is just the sort of company you'd expect to release a so-called smartbook that shakes things up, yet it's Booklet 3G uses an Intel Atom processor and runs Windows 7. That's not say Google won't make some headway. By this time next year Acer and others could well have several interesting Chrome OS netbooks on store shelves. In a world filled with near-identical netbooks, it would be nice to have a little variety. But clearly there's a lot of work left to be done on both the software and hardware.

Topics: Google, Hardware, Mobility

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292 comments
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  • Too crippled

    Both Windows and Linux netbooks offer much more functionality and flexibility than the Google Dumb Terminal.

    No thanks...
    Tom12Tom
    • Think of it as an appliance, not a full-featured PC

      I think the idea is to create a NEW category of computing device...more like an appliance.

      Do TV users need to wait minutes, for it to boot up & worry about maintenance (software installation, virus scanning, backups, upgrades, etc.)?

      Give it some time. I think this could have great mass market appeal for the less technically savvy users who just want to browse the web, do email & IM, create basic documents, watch videos, etc.

      People wanting/needing to do more than that can use a more full-featured PC.
      linuser
      • Price will tell.

        If it is priced right I do see people buying these. But I do not see anyone buying them for the same price of a more functional net-book.
        AboveAverageJoe
        • I see these will probably be subsidized...

          by cell carriers (assuming some kind of 3G support).

          This would make carriers happy since it limits what the computer can be used for, none of those bandwidth eating applications.
          mrlinux
        • How about FREE???

          Google might well subsidize these suckers (and Android phones, too) so
          that they get more data and more "eyes" in their cloud. The ONLY thing
          preventing them from doing this: it would become obvious how powerful
          Google is becoming by giving away all their freebies.
          Userama
          • That could open up an interesting can of worms...nt

            nt
            TheBottomLineIsAllThatMatters
          • Don't I recall them talking about using the abandoned analog TV bands?

            What if they offered it cheap w/free WAN access?
            Prime Waverider
        • I agree $125 or less and they "may" have something...

          anything over that and it's very, very difficult to justify in my opinion. Tho Walmart ran a special for a eMachine (yeah I know) for $128... But if it lasted a year you got your money's worth.
          TheBottomLineIsAllThatMatters
      • Is Data *In*security a "feature"?

        We can do without this standard, built-in feature of Microsoft "general purpose" operating systems which are all hat and no cattle.

        Give me fast access to the Web and I can do 90% of the stuff I use a computer for. Add some basic stuff from the Linux world (OpenOffice, for example) and I can do 95% of it...

        As the cloud continues to expand and compute servers evolve, the significance of Microsoft's prize cheatform/platform will vanish.
        bbneo
        • Re: Is Data *In*security a "feature"?

          Here comes a Microsoft hater to spread his FUD around.

          Latest studies from security firms proved IE8 to be more secure than any other browser including Chrome and FireFox (http://news.softpedia.com/news/IE8-Bests-Firefox-3-07-Safari-3-Chrome-1-0-154-Opera-9-64-and-IE7-107625.shtml) and (http://www.tgdaily.com/html_tmp/content-view-41785-140.html). Each Linux distro and OS X get more patches than Microsoft OS's combined every month. And I can go on and on and on...
          samofdetroit
      • For the

        What I believe is an excellent selling point for Chrome is it's ease of use and reduced risk if stolen.

        When I read many of these posts they are from the perspective of the 'IT' enthusist.

        I believe the majority of the users in the world still do not have a great grasp on security. Therefore having a device which is more of an appliance for the 'coffee' shop surfer has its place.

        The primary purpose of this device is two fold...
        1. Provide a product that is not Microsoft
        2. Provide a simple and safe tool for surfing the web

        I do not claim to know if the security is greater or not and someone will always try and hack whatever is around just to say that he or she did it.
        ITBusinessman
        • Microsoft has no bearing on the success

          I cannot imagine that most folks are less concerned about the technical nitty gritty would then be intentionally seeking a non-Microsoft platform.

          No, in fact the appeal will be initial marketing which will be followed by usability.

          Microsoft, the name Microsoft, Windows, will have no measurable impact on the success of Google OS (platforms).

          Google has unbeatable name recognition - even better than Microsoft in my view for the average Joe. Google is used by nearly every desktop user for searching the web, we all know the name.

          Lots of people use Gmail. We are all familiar with the Google Brand. And for most people the Google name is not held in contempt, maybe not overall positive but we all depend on Google services - we just accept that reality.

          I am personally not at all impressed with Google OS, it certainly would be immensely restrictive for me if it were my only option. But I am simultaneously intrigued by some of the video presentations that I have seen.

          I really think Google could pull of a sheik and popular "trendy" computing platform that could fundamentally transform the netbook into more of social networking, emailing, picture sharing platform.

          The netbook would become a viable tool for the masses. Of course the cost will be very low, and that is another attractive aspect of this platform.

          [b]Prediction time:[/b] Google OS will be immensely successful initially. It will be dressed up with fantastic marketing. There will be a bridge of sorts to make the online stuff work with Windows platforms - that is any cloud computing data storage, file storage such as photo albums for example, will be synchronized in a manner with Windows platforms.

          This means that people will be able to transfer data (files, music, data of all sorts) between their desktops (business and personal use) and their Google powered netbooks.

          That is what I think, that there will be a connection of necessity made between the two.

          I further believe that Google OS will have a very minimal impact on Windows powered PC sales. I think it will cause some people to buy a netbook powered by Google instead of a full blown Windows based notebook, but it certainly will not replace the full featured and powerful desktops and laptops.
          Raid6
  • It depends.

    It has to offer a compelling alternative. One or more of:

    - Lower cost

    - Much longer battery life

    - Almost bullet proof security for ordinary folks.

    On top of that it must have all the apps a casual used would want while on the road as well as the ability to function off-line, with cashed local data as well as functioning apps. The data will be sync'ed automatically upon reconnection to the web.

    If Google and the OEM's can pull that off, they have a huge market waiting for them IMHO.
    Economister
    • Many users still have limited web access.

      If you've got a nice pricey broadband connection, why limit yourself to Chrome at all? Why not get one of those easy-to-use easy-to-carry little Macs? If you can afford broadband, you can afford a Mac or a Win 7 netbook at the lower end: both are far superior to Chrome.

      Many dial-up users are still using ancient PCs for word processing, sending the occasional e-mail, and doing their small business accounting: no need to shell out cash for a high-speed Internet connection and a Chrome netbook that provides very limited functionality.
      CPPDEV
    • Humm . . .

      "- Much longer battery life

      - Almost bullet proof security for ordinary folks."

      Well, you can check those off for Win7. In my experience, it has better battery life than XP, and pretty bulletproof security.

      Lower cost may not be as much of an issue with the vast majority of people getting Windows built into the machine. Buying those expensive installs is actually not that common.

      "On top of that it must have all the apps a casual used would want while on the road as well as the ability to function off-line, with cashed local data as well as functioning apps. The data will be sync'ed automatically upon reconnection to the web."

      I get that with Live Mesh :). Works nicely, thanks.
      CobraA1
      • ...this previous post was paid advertising...

        ...brought to you by the nice people at Microsoft.

        In a world without Walls, why would you need Windows or Gates...

        LOL...
        cosuna
        • To keep out the riff-rats like Goggle and Apple!

          nt
          eargasm
    • Sounds like the way Windows works

      All your points are valid but the price differential between 10" netbooks and 14" laptops is already VERY SMALL ($0-$150).

      Battery life is another issue but to improve battery life you are giving up performance, RAM, disk space, and screen size. If you go with a solid-state drive, the netbook cost goes up. Switch to ChromeOS and compatibility with Windows files becomes an issue.

      ChromeOS might be able to pick-up users where desktop Linux could not but I am not sure that the Google brand is enough to insure that.
      M Wagner
      • Linux already has 30% of the netbook market world wide

        If you put Linux (ChromeOS) on a 10" netbook with an ARM class processor, less RAM, less storage (a few GB), SD card for additional storage etc. you may just have a very compelling product. I want all day battery life without a huge battery lump and added weight. If Google can deliver that for about the same price as a regular netbook (say $300) I think they will have a winner on their hands.

        I do not know whether netbook screens are sufficiently power efficient to permit that yet, but time will tell.
        Economister
        • Really? 30%? Show me the proof.

          I've been hearing that 30% quote from... here, ZDNet. But from nowhere else.

          I believe that the Linux netbook OS share is more like 10% and dropping.

          In the beginning, when netbooks first came out, Linux was the prevalent OS on those machines. Then Microsoft got involved and XP became so prevalent that the Linux market-share for netbooks had dropped to about 10% towards the end of last year and the beginning of this year.

          ChromeOS will "sell" like hot-cakes once it comes out preloaded on netbooks. Then, once people start realizing how limiting the thin OS is, they'll start migrating back towards a Windows OS for their notebooks.

          And then, ChromeOS will meet with the same fate as it's parent OS, Linux.

          People want quick and they want security, but they also like to have full-capability OSes on their hands and on their PCs.
          adornoe