Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

Summary: Why pay a premium for Google's Chrome OS on a $350 or $430 notebook if you can install it yourself?

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Why pay a premium for Google's Chrome OS on a $350 or $430 notebook if you can install it yourself?

Today, at the Google IO conference in San Francisco, Google announced the pending avaliablity of the first commercial offerings based on Chrome OS, a pair of notebook computers by Samsung and Acer.

Now, I've been playing with Chrome OS for quite a few months, ever since I brought a colleague's loaner CR-48 on Christmas vacation as my primary computer and after Google sent me a device to permanently play with. I like Chrome OS. A lot.

Also Read: A Very Chrome-y Christmas

There's just one problem with it: I don't really want to have to pay Acer or Samsung $350.00-$430 for about $200.00-$250.00 worth of hardware for the privilege of running it. And even if I were a student, I certainly don't want to pay a $20 monthly rental on hardware that would amortize itself in less than a year.

You'd have to be out of your mind to keep it any longer than that. No, scratch that, you'd be out of your mind to agree to do it in the first place.

Read my colleague Ed Bott's analysis, I think he's dead on. Google and its partners are crazy to sell the device that high, given the limited functionality of the product.

I mean heck, I could go out right now and buy a refurb Asus Eee PC from TigerDirect with roughly the same hardware specs and spend $250.00. Or if I wanted another Acer, I could get a full-blown AMD dual-core laptop for the same $350 as their ChromeBook.

It was thought that during the CR-48's launch that these Intel Atom-based Chrome notebooks would eventually go for about $250.00-$300.00 or so, less than what an entry-level notebook computer should cost because it's missing a hard disk and only needs about 1GB of RAM, with a low-range integrated Intel GPU.

Heck, the thing is basically just a web browser sitting on top of a kernel. It doesn't need a full-blown notebook's worth of hardware. The BOM on the thing just shouldn't be this high to justify what they are charging.

The way I see it, these initial product offerings are at least $100.00 overpriced.

But never mind the cost, for a moment. There's also the issue of flexibility.

If I want to run the official Google version of Chrome OS, I have to buy one of these new notebooks. Well, hypothetically, what if I don't want to run it on a notebook? What if my vision is impaired, and I want to use it on a much larger screen?

Say on an entry-level desktop PC? Or on a older computer I'd like to give to my children, or my father-in-law? Or if I was a cash-strapped educator in a third-world country or an inner-city school and I wanted to get an entire classroom on the Internet, cheaply?

You can't. Because while Google has opened the source code for Chrome OS, there's no official Google "distribution", like an Ubuntu, which you can just grab and toss on any old computer.

Indeed, there are hard-working rogue programmers out there, like as Liam Mcloughlin, aka "Hexxeh" who is diligently making nightly builds of Chromium OS and is providing VM images and even a USB stick that allows you to install the software on a certain subset of notebook and PC hardware.

But at best this is a resourceful and very smart college kid that is doing this as a best-effort. It's not a well-funded project like Ubuntu or even something like MeeGo or most similarly, Jolicloud OS (which is one of the coolest micro-distros I've played with lately)

If Google really wants people to be able to get a taste of what Chrome OS can do, then it has to do more than throw the Chromium OS source code out on a public CVS tree and say "good luck."

Google needs to fund it as a full-blown Linux distribution that anyone can install, on any hardware that a typical distribution would support, which would also include hardware-accelerated virtual machines.

Not only would this spread the platform out to all sorts of developers and potential systems integrators that can expand the ecosystem for this new OS, but it's just plain smart because it's viral marketing.

Sure, I think it's great we can buy Chrome OS pre-loaded on hardware. Some people will undoubtedly pay for the premium. But for crying out loud, don't make it the only way for non-developers to get access to this OS.

Should Google make Chrome OS into a "distribution" like Ubuntu or MeeGo? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Laptops, Google, Hardware, Mobility

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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44 comments
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  • It is not $400 it is more.

    With a 3 year contract at $28 a month, that is grand total of $1,008 for a $200 netbook and on top of that with an OS that provide less functionality than the cheap netbook.
    wackoae
    • RE: Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

      @wackoae The Wi-Fi versions are $350 and $430 respectively if you buy them straight out. However I agree, the wireless contract makes no sense at all.
      jperlow
      • RE: Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

        @jperlow <br><br>As a WoW player I'm used to it from other players as I figure they're 12 and never paid attention in school.<br><br>That's ROGUE not ROUGE <img border="0" src="http://www.cnet.com/i/mb/emoticons/wink.gif" alt="wink">
        tonymcs@...
      • RE: Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

        @tonymcs thanks for pointing out the typo. Although if you play WoW, chances are you -are- not much older than 12.
        jperlow
    • RE: Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

      @wackoae
      And they used to say tablets were too expensive. But with Google Chrome OS, your critical data is safe in the cloud .. free of viruses, malware and data loss .. with 100 percent online uptime.
      kenosha77a
      • Safe in the cloud?

        @kenosha7777 Like Amazon, oh, wait, they had an outage and lost some of their customers' data...

        Good, then like Sony, oops, no, wait, that wasn't good either...
        wright_is
      • RE: Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

        @kenosha7777
        Can Google guarantee 100% uptime between the end user and their cloud services. Do they have some say in ISP SLA's?
        global.philosopher
    • RE: Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

      @wackoae: Good point but they over charge with mobile tariffs and we pay.
      bradavon
  • CR-48 experience?

    Jason, I am curious. What exactly did you think of CR-48 after using it? I have been using it for months, but haven't been able to transition it from a "play" computer (email, browsing, social networking, online games) to a "work" computer (serious work). The current offerings for web-based Office programs are woefully inadequate for any serious use. How about your experience?
    suirauqa
    • RE: Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

      @suirauqa I like it for doing web browsing stuff, for using GMail, FaceBook, typical end-user stuff that you mention. It's definitely not for serious work. Not yet.
      jperlow
  • numbers don't add up

    I'm a school tech director who was looking forward to inexpensive Chrome/OS machines, but $240/yr for a rental doesn't make sense - it's more like Microsoft pricing.

    My kids have put JoliCloud/OS on 4 old PCs and we love it!
    scds@...
    • RE: Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

      @scds@... '
      That price includes 24/7 support and management software.
      daengbo
      • RE: Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

        @daengbo
        as a School Tech Director as well I agree the price comes out too high for the hardware alone, but I have one tech who works for me. The two of us support the whole district. In the younger grades most of what is being done is word processing and internet access. If for that $20/month I have no hard drives to replace, no software to install, defective hardware is replaced (You have to figure a 3 year warranty in to the cost of those netbooks) No images to re-install, it may start to seem a reasonable cost. Not for all uses, autocad just isn't going to cut it here, but for a large number of them perhaps. I am not ready to jump on board yet (I am somewhat skeptical of googles support) but I would not dismiss it out of hand.
        dsousa@...
  • RE: Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

    Chrome/OS is a JOKE! "But with Google Chrome OS, your critical data is safe in the cloud .. free of viruses, malware and data loss. " They can't even keep it off the android phones! I have used chrome os and I just have to say it is garbage!
    imsimsj
  • Why not just run Chrome on your favorite OS?

    If you install Chrome OS on a regular old PC, you miss out on the instant-on features and verified boot, which are deeply integrated into the firmware. If you're going to skip those features, why not just run the Chrome browser on your favorite desktop OS?
    md1032
    • RE: Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

      @md1032 Because not everyone wants the whole OS. Some people don't require full-blown Linux or Windows.

      The other features of the Chromebooks are nice, but they are value adds, not core functionality. Certainly not worth a 100 dollar premium over a cheap notebook.
      jperlow
    • RE: Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

      @md1032 This is likely what I'm going to do with an old laptop just to play around with it a bit.

      However, I'd love to be able to make an install of the "official" ChromeOS and install it on my own old PC hardware and run it just like I would with Ubuntu. I won't hold Google to having to support every single iteration out there for hardware, but I would suspect that they can hit the majority of stuff from within the last 5 years either as a default or with 3rd party support just like most of Linux does now.

      Honestly I think Google releasing it like that would be a great way to get people to try it out and then get them to just buy the full fledged "Google Experience" with an official netbook.

      But I think the hardware vendors have likely asked Google to not do this, and also Google is likely worried about fragmentation in ChromeOS if they release it in a similar manner to Android.

      But time will tell....
      kent7854
  • Absolutely must make it a Distro. Agreed.

    Spent last weekend looking at the latest and greatest iteration of Meego on my AOD260 and will say this:

    Intel means business. But the Netbook UX has a way to go.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz --- Your Linux Advocate
  • RE: Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

    Here is what 100MB per month data looks like: http://www.att.com/standalone/data-calculator/
    patrick.moorhead@...
    • RE: Chrome OS? Sign me up. ChromeBook? Not so much.

      @patrick.moorhead Yes, it's ridiculous.
      jperlow