Google Inc. is trying to win more converts to a computer operating system revolving around its popular Chrome web browser with a new wave of lightweight laptops built by Samsung Electronics. The latest Chromebooks include many features that could make the devices more popular with school leaders looking to roll out one-to-one computing initiatives with a limited IT staff.
The May 29 release of the next-generation Chromebooks will give Google and Samsung another opportunity to persuade consumers, businesses, and schools to buy an unconventional computer instead of machines running on familiar software by industry pioneers Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc.
Unlike most computers, Google’s Chromebooks don’t have a hard drive; they function like terminals dependent on an internet connection. Booting up in just seconds, they’re designed to connect quickly to Google’s dominant internet search engine and ever-expanding stable of online services, ranging from eMail and Google Apps for Education to a recently introduced file-storage system called Drive.
The new Chromebooks come with 16 gigabytes of flash memory—the kind found in smart phones, tablet computers, and some iPods. Two USB ports allow external hard drives and other devices to be plugged into the machines.
Chromebooks haven’t made much of a dent in the market since their debut a year ago. In that time, more people have been embracing Apple’s iPad and other tablet computers—a factor that has contributed to a slowdown in sales of personal computers.
Google says it always intended to take things slowly with the Chromebooks to give its engineers time to understand the shortcomings of the machines and make the necessary improvements.
“This release is a big step in the journey to bringing [Chromebooks] to the mainstream,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of Chrome and apps.
The upgraded laptop, called “Series 5 550,” is supposed to run two-and-half times faster than the original machines, and it boasts higher-definition video. Google also added features that will enable users to edit documents offline, read more content created in widely used Microsoft applications such as Word and Excel, and retrieve material from another computer at home or an office—features that could facilitate their use by students at home or in school. More emphasis is being placed on Chrome’s web store, which features more than 50,000 applications.
The price: $449 for models that only connect to the internet through Wi-Fi and $549 for a machine that connects on a 3G network. Samsung’s original Chromebooks started out with prices ranging from $429 to $499. Like the original Chromebooks, the next-generation machines feature a 12.1-inch screen display and run on an Intel processor.