Computers built for the cloud

Computers built for the cloud

“Whether it be Microsoft or other OS vendors, I think the complexity of managing your computers is really torturing users out there,” said Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder and director of special projects, speaking at Google I/O, its developer conference here.

“That’s a flawed model fundamentally. And I think Chromebooks are a new model that doesn’t put the burden of managing your computer on yourself.” Google will not have an easy time challenging Microsoft, which dominates the workplace. While Google has bested Microsoft in operating system software for mobile phones, it has taken on Microsoft in the workplace before and failed to budge it, most notably in word processing and spreadsheet software and collaboration tools.

Google says Chromebooks will attract corporate technology buyers because Google automatically updates the Chrome operating system over the Internet and there is no need to back up computers because if they are lost or ruined, all the data exists online.

“We’re venturing into a really new model of computing that I don’t think was possible previously, even a few years ago,” Brin said. “I think it’s just a much easier way to compute.” Google biggest challenge will be convincing people to do computing in a completely different way. The Chromebooks, named after Google’s Chrome operating system, will store all of a user’s data and the computer’s software online. Google’s idea is that anyone could walk up to an Internet-connected computer anywhere and have access to his or her information.

But since most computer users are accustomed to using desktop software and storing data on a computer’s hard drive, getting people—and corporate managers of information technology—to change will be difficult, said David Daoud, research director for personal computing at IDC.

“Large companies are still very much Windows-centric,” Daoud said. “Yes, Google might find a niche market for this, but it’s going to be very difficult to compete with Microsoft in the large enterprise space, given the complexity of those installed products.” The Chrome operating system, which Google introduced in 2009, does away with desktop software and storing data on a computer.

Instead, it is not much more than a browser, and all of a computer user’s information, like documents, photos and email messages, is stored on the Internet, or in “the cloud.” Instead of desktop software like Microsoft Word or iPhoto, people use web-based software like Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365 or Picasa.

Corporate IT departments are not known for quickly adopting flashy new products. Half of businesses are still running the 2001 version of Windows XP, said Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president for Chrome. However, tablet computers with touch screens, like the iPad, are replacing laptops in some workplaces, so the Chromebook may be late to the game. Microsoft has also seen some softness in its sales for its operating system software.

Google’s strategy is to go after businesses and schools first. If students get used to a web-based operating system, they might request it in their offices later on, and if people use it at work, they might decide to buy one for their homes.

“There’s a limit to how many people will get a Chromebook on their own, so they’re probing for another entry point into this lightweight computing market,” said Ray Valdes, research director for Internet platforms at Gartner, a research firm.

The first Chromebooks, made by Samsung and Acer, will start at $349 and be available to buy June 15 from and Best Buy.