The predecessor to the two computers announced today, a prototype called the Cr-48, was sent to hundreds of thousands of people who volunteered to test the hardware as part of a pilot program. Google’s willingness to share an early version of Chrome OS revealed some of the drawbacks of Google’s simplified approach to the PC.
Some of the issues identified through the pilot have been fixed for Chrome OS’s commercial debut: the devices have a file manager and can handle storage devices like USB drives and digital cameras; they can play MP3 music files and video files downloaded from the Web; problems with the trackpad’s performance have also been resolved.
Yet some limitations remain. Google has developed technology that allows websites and services to operate offline, but few providers have taken advantage of them. Even Google’s Gmail, calendar, and document-editing Web apps won’t work offline until later this summer. Printing using a Chromebook is possible, but is significantly more complicated than with a conventional computer.
Google will make the new Chromebooks available to businesses and educational institutions next month, via a subscription package that bundles leased computers with support. Business customers will pay $28 per user per month, while the education package will be just $20 per month. Chrome’s security features—all data on a Chromebook is encrypted by default—and its simplicity compared to a conventional machine may be major selling points to organizations that must juggle hundreds or thousands of machines. At I/O, Pichai also previewed a desktop Chrome OS device—dubbed a Chromebox—made by Samsung that will be targeted at businesses and can drive multiple monitors.