RealTime IT News

Google Aims Chrome OS at 'Pro Netbook' Market

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Google's plans for its new Chrome OS came into sharper focus at a media briefing today here at the company's headquarters.

While Chrome OS is often portrayed in the media as a potential competitor to Microsoft's ubiquitous Windows operating system, Google's roadmap indicates it's in no rush to take on Windows across all platforms.

Google officials said today's big news was that the Chrome OS is available for others to tinker with, reuse and extend on an open source basis.

But the bigger news from a consumer and IT buyer perspective was Google's release schedule. The plan is for the completed Google Chrome OS to be available by Fall 2010 in time for the holiday shopping season and, significantly, only on a select group of netbooks.

Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), explained why Google is targeting a specific class of netbooks with solid-state drives and bigger screens than most models currently available.

"We really want to be sure these are comfortable devices," he said. The solid-state drive also means a faster start time. Pichai said it now only takes about seven seconds to load a Chrome OS-powered netbook and three more seconds to login. The startup time might even get quicker by next year.

In a later informal session with reporters, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said Google Chrome OS will eventually be available on other systems including notebooks and desktops. "There are no technical limits," he said. "Over time you'll see all these capabilities migrate."

Analyst Roger Kay said it's an interesting strategy to go netbook first, but Google may be confusing the market. "Chrome OS is their first real shot at getting the client, though they have Android already and the difference isn't totally obvious. I thought Chrome was going to be for the desktop and notebooks," Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, told InternetNews.com.

ARM, a major supplier (via license) of chips for mobile devices, said it's been working with Google and partners for about a year on this next-generation netbook.

"We're really excited by this new way of approaching the Web," said Ian Drew, vice president of marketing at ARM. Drew said Google is targeting a new generation of users that spend 90 percent or more of their computer time online using social media, surfing the Internet and Web services.

The price is right?

Pricing might be a key issue as to how quickly Chrome OS netbooks are sold. Heading in to this holiday season, netbooks in the $300 to $500 range are readily available that use conventional hard drives. Netbooks equipped with solid-state drives are more expensive.

Lenovo recently unveiled the IdeaPad U150 notebook for $585 that includes a 64GB solid-state drive. Weighing 2.9 pounds with an 11.6 display, that kind of notebook is closer to the kind of bigger netbooks Google is talking about.

Google said it couldn't predict what the devices are likely to cost by next fall. Analyst Greg Sterling said some models will have to come in under $500 to get any serious sales volume. "I would even say under $400 will be important," Sterling told InternetNews.com.

"People buy netbooks because they're cheap, not so much because they're portable," he added. "I saw one study that said 60 percent of netbooks never leave the house, though obviously many people do use them as mobile devices."

Sterling thinks the initial higher end or "Pro Netbook" market target is a smart move by Google because they can provide a simple, speedy experience a class of users will find useful.

"Essentially, these are Google netbooks and it's very much like Android in the sense that it's a free OS and is going to attract a lot of hardware makers," he said. "I would guess all the big players, Dell, HP and others are already working with Google on this."