Google unveiled an interesting new model for distributing computers and software today with the announcement of Chromebooks for Business and Education. The idea is that you pay $20 per month (student price) or $28 per month per user (business price) and get a laptop for no up-front cost, and the latest software updates for the life of the product. If the product becomes obsolete while you’re paying. Google will even upgrade it for you.
That all sounds great… but it turns out things aren’t that simple. Engadget uncovered some additional details, and it turns out that you’ll need to sign up for a 3-year commitment before Google will send you a laptop.
It also turns out that the Chromebooks for Business program requires a minimum order of 10 laptops. And if you want a 3G capable Chromebook you’ll need to pay an extra $3 per month, bringing the price for students to $23 per month and the price for businesses to $31 per month.
Sure, for just a few dollars per month you get the cheapest 3G data plan available in the US, with 100MB of bandwidth each month supplied by Verizon. But you’ll probably use that up the first time you actually try to use the laptop away from a WiFi hotspot.
Then there’s the question of whether you actually want a notebook that only runs a web browser in the first place. After all, there’s very little that a Chromebook can do that a Windows, Mac, or Linux notebook couldn’t do just as well. After all, you can run versions of the Chrome (or Chromium) web browser on each of those platforms. Sure, you might not get the 10 second boot time, but when it comes right down to it, the Acer and Samsung Chromebooks are just laptops with Intel Atom processors. They could run any number of operating systems.
While I think the $349 starting price to buy a WiFi Acer Chromebook outright is fair, since you get a nice big screen, a full sized keyboard, an Atom N570 processor, and a 16GB solid state disk (which I’m assuming is reasonably fast), I’m not sure I’d want to pay $20 per month for the next three years to use that laptop, bringing the total cost to $720. And that’s for the cheapest possible option.
If you opt for the business plan with 3G access, you could end up paying $1116 per laptop over the course of a three year contract — bringing the total to $11,160 for 10 laptops.
Fortunately, I don’ t have to make this decision, because I’m not a student and I’m not in a position to order 10 laptops for my business. But I can’t help but wonder… if Google did offer the general public a chance to rent Chromebooks instead of buying them outright, would you do it under these conditions?