Google aims at Microsoft with Chromebooks

Google has taken aim at one of the main pillars of Microsoft’s business, as it announced that notebook computers running its Chrome OS software instead of Windows will go on sale next month.

However, analysts predicted that the company would struggle to find a big market for the first of the new computers, dubbed Chromebooks.

Chromebooks give users access to applications running on the web rather than software on the computer itself, making them the first examples of what Google claims will be a new generation of machines purpose-built for the era of “cloud computing”.

Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder, said companies in particular should benefit from the new style of laptops.

“The complexity of managing your computers is really torturing users,” he said. “It’s a flawed model fundamentally.”

Google said that Chromebooks made by Acer and Samsung would go on sale on June 15 in seven countries including the US and UK, and would be available to companies through an unusual subscription fee of $28 a month.

Schools and governments will be charged $20 a month, while consumers will be able to buy outright the devices, which carry initial price tags of $349-$499.

However, Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner, said: “Why would Chrome OS notebooks be of greater interest than Linux notebooks, which have near zero interest?” Since most corporate software runs on Windows, he added, “Chrome OS does not really solve a problem today”.

Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester, called Chromebooks “an incremental first step in a challenge to the traditional PC model”.

Google may be able to create true rivals to corporate laptops “within the next couple of years”, he said, although much would depend on its ability to provide the sort of support companies demand.

In one indication of potential interest, Google said it had received nearly 50,000 requests from companies that wanted to try out the machines as part of a free pilot programme.

The response could indicate that some companies were looking to use Chromebooks primarily to gain negotiating leverage against Microsoft, one observer said.

Related article: Why Chromebooks might turn up in a workplace near you

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