Update: It’s official. Starting June 15th, Google will offer Chromebook laptops and software support, as well as free hardware upgrades for $20 per month for students, and $28 per month per user for business users.
Google Chrome OS is an operating system designed around a web browser and web-based applications such as Gmail, Google Docs, and you know, Google search. Since most of your data is stored online rather than on the computer, Google can push software and security updates instantly, and if something happens to your physical computer, you can pick up where you left off using another Chrome OS machine.
So it makes sense that Google would position Chrome as a service and not just a product that you can purchase. While it’s likely that Chrome OS will come preloaded as the operating system on notebooks from a number of PC makers later this year, at least one model may be offered for rent instead of purchase.
Forbes reports that Google will introduce a Chrome OS laptop today that will be offered as part of a “student package” for $20 per month. That price gets you the physical laptop as well as access to the software — although to be fair, much of the software will be free for anyone to use. Chrome OS is expected to be based on open source software, and while Google charges for premium access to its Google Apps product, many of the company’s other web apps are free to the public. I suppose Google could charge for additional online storage space for your data though.
Anyway, Forbes suggests that the student package could be part of a trial before Google rolls out the service for enterprise customers. While $20 per month can add up over time, it’s just $240 per year — which may be cheaper than purchasing a laptop outright for many students. On the other hand, if you expect your computer to last through a full 4-year college education, we’re talking about $960.
That’s cheaper than a MacBook, but you could pick up three or four netbooks for the same price. But really, does anyone expect a PC to go 4 years without an upgrade these days? And at least software updates are included in the price.
Also — what happens if a student stops paying? Will Google or the manufacturer send someone to repossess the hardware? Will users be unable to login? Will the $20 per month fee include 3G access which will be disabled? There are still a lot of unanswered questions.
The Forbes report fleshes out a rumor that was making the rounds last month… but there still aren’t many details to go on. We should know more later today.