Would You Accept Google's Free Netbook?

When Google first announced what it called Chrome OS, back in July, it said it would open source the code “later this year”. Last week it made good on that promise with the release of the code for what is now called Chromium OS, and the first analyses have started rolling in. They're mostly tinged with a vague air of disappointment, as if Chromium OS isn't quite as exciting as people hoped. But might Google be aiming much, much higher – and planning to turn the personal computing sector on its head by offering computers that cost nothing?

Open source is clearly an important part of making that happen: it brings the unit cost of software close to zero. But there's still the small matter of the hardware to be paid for. In fact, costs there can also be brought right down, since Chromium is optimised for netbook form factors. As Google noted at the launch of its new operating system:

First, it's all about the web. All apps are web apps. The entire experience takes place within the browser and there are no conventional desktop applications. This means users do not have to deal with installing, managing and updating programs.

That also means you don't need hard discs or even much RAM. It also emphasised:

Most of all, we are obsessed with speed. We are taking out every unnecessary process, optimizing many operations and running everything possible in parallel. This means you can go from turning on the computer to surfing the web in a few seconds. Our obsession with speed goes all the way down to the metal. We are specifying reference hardware components to create the fastest experience for Google Chrome OS.

“Taking out every unnecessary process, optimizing many operations” also implies that you can use lower-cost processors than before. That just leaves the screen, but costs have been plummeting there, too. I'm no engineer, so I find it hard to come up with an exact build cost for a minimalist Chromium OS netbook, but I imagine we're talking ten or twenty dollars, rather than one or two hundred.

Still, even this small cost has to be paid for if the machines are to be given away, and once more, that's where the Web-based nature of the Chrome OS experience comes in. It would trivial for Google to place advertising not just in search pages, but in the applications themselves. Already, it is rolling out ads to more and more of its services. More significantly, perhaps, it has also brought AdSense ads *inside* a desktop application, Google Earth. That makes ads inside word processors and spreadsheets a much smaller step.

Google needs to look at this new market because it has nowhere else to go if it wants to continue growing (as it must do to keep its shareholders happy). It already totally dominates targeted ads of the kind provided by its AdSense. Display advertising on the Web is the next obvious move, and Google recently bought the company Teracent to do just that:

Teracent's technology can pick and choose from literally thousands of creative elements of a display ad in real-time — tweaking images, products, messages or colors. These elements can be optimized depending on factors like geographic location, language, the content of the website, the time of day or the past performance of different ads.

Note, though, that same technology would also work rather well with the content of Web-based *desktop* applications, which are, in effect, private, miniature Web sites.

People already put up with ads alongside Google search results and in Gmail; I don't think many would think twice about the offer of a completely free netbook that had suitably discreet advertising appearing throughout the system: Google could play on the fact that it has so far treated its user with reasonable respect as far as the intrusiveness of ads go. Google has emphasised that Chromium OS is designed as an ancillary computer, not something that is necessarily in your face all the time, so it's not as if you would be bombarded all day long.

But by reducing the cost of this second computer to zero, it could make sure that millions – maybe billions – of people would always have the lightweight, small form-factor Google netbook to hand when they needed to look up something, check Facebook and Twitter, or even knock out a quick document. The unexpected success of netbooks over the last two years shows there is a market for this new kind of computing; giving away systems for free would take it to the next level. Then, gradually, that instant-on, secure, secondary netbook might become the one you spend most time on, and Google's ad revenues would climb even higher....

So, if Google offered you a fast, light, compact netbook for nothing, in exchange for a few ads appearing here and there as you work, would you accept? Or do you think the price you would pay in terms of the company knowing even more about what you do on an hour-by-hour basis would be just too high?

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Not enough disk space?

Zeke Krahlin's picture

But what about Damn Small Linux, Puppy Linux and Ubuntu Lite?


Glyn Moody's picture

very clever...

Maybe not clever enough, though.

Zeke Krahlin's picture

Probably, Google will burn their OS into its firmware...I mean, burn a teensy routine in BIOS (or a seperate, soldered-in chip) that will only allow the netbook to function with Google Chrome.


Glyn Moody's picture

I speak as someone who is almost certainly older than 99% of Linux Journal's readers (I first met Bill Gates in 1985, when he gave me a personal demo of this wacky new Macintosh program called "Excel") and is definitely "weird" (although I haven't started collecting milk bottle tops...)

(sorry, this was meant as a comment to the "weird "old" people, indeed" comment further down)

Amazon Will Pay School Districts To Distribute Their Netbooks!

John and Dagny Galt's picture

Amazon Will Pay School Districts To Distribute Their Netbooks to each and every public school student!

Students will never carry another book again. All the Amazonbooks in the classroom will be linked via bluetooth. No textbooks, no paper, no audio/visual equipment, no chalkboards, no dry-erase boards, etc.

Eventually students will videolink from all across the planet for their education! No more school buildings, no more polluting schoolbuses, no more classroom massacres...

No more Tiananmen Square Massacres can occur without live documentation and protests of millions in the streets will become commonplace.

Welcome to the future! It cannot come fast enough!

John and Dagny Galt
Atlas Shrugged, Owners Manual For The Universe!(tm)


No more...

jacksinn's picture

In your future: No more social interaction. No more school team sports. No more school pride. No more local teaching jobs. No more public education. No more school bus drivers. No more class trips. No more solidarity.

Kindergarten, brought to you by Amazon.

No, sir. No more of this future for me.


Zeke Krahlin's picture

Don't you mean "KindleGarten"? :P

So You're Saying Without Gunvernment Schools We Are Isolated?

John and Dagny Galt's picture

So You're Saying Without Gunvernment Schools We Are Isolated?

What planet are you from?

We don't need gunvernment indoctrination centers to interact socially...or to have sports teams...or to have pride...or to have teachers...or to have jobs...or to have bus drivers...or to take trips and vacations together...

Your supposed solidarity has only resulted in mobbism and thuggism where everyone loots everyone else in total destruction via the rob-peter-to-buy-paul's-vote mobocracy.

There are only two types of human beings:

One type just wants to be left alone

The other type refuses to do so while they still breath

The sooner we get rid of the GUNvernment indoctrination centers the sooner we can end the Mobocracy Looter Minions.

John and Dagny Galt
Atlas Shrugged, Owners Manual For The Universe!(tm)


Put down the Ayn Rand

jacksinn's picture

Put down the Ayn Rand propaganda and think for a second.

If there are no local teachers then there is no local way of getting to know your educator. If there is no school then there is a need for (among other similar options):

1) two worker household with super high income to pay for nannies to watch your kids while they stay at home and get educated by someone you'll never know
2) require a spouse (if the kids are even so lucky to have 2 parents) to stay at home while your kids get educated by someone you'll never know

Also, I'm more concerned about an Amazon or other corporate-sponsored-primary-and-secondary-education-program providing a more consumer and politically biased education than I am a public school bowing to the same pressures. Most schools don't preach fealty to whoever is holding office and they don't advocate one corporation over the other out of self interest.

I simply don't want my child's education to come from a logo found in a garbage can.

"Your supposed solidarity has only resulted in mobbism and thuggism where everyone loots everyone else in total destruction via the rob-peter-to-buy-paul's-vote mobocracy."

Really? It has only resulted in that? In Rand's own style, individuality rules the day and capitalism should be basically unregulated. In this sense your hyperbolic 'everyone loots everyone' fits this situation rather nicely.

Because People, Young And Old, Will Self-Educate Via The Web....

John and Dagny Galt's picture

Because People, Young And Old, Will Self-Educate Via The Web....

Perhaps at websites such as Linux Journal and Wikipedia, amongst millions of others.

Because pediphiles roam freely amongst the children in the gunvernment indoctrination centers.

Because nobody really believes it costs twelve thousand dollars a year to educate a child. Eleven thousand of that cost is massive, wasteful aoverhead. In NYC the school district pays administrators and teachers to stay home and do nothing. Why would you voluntarily pay for that?

In the free market, parents will send their children to various free market educational entities. One example might be a local computer club/gathering place. Another might be the local horticulture club/gathering place.

Your commentary regarding the free market and unfettered capitalism is misguided and misleading. When was the last time you looted your neighbor's computer? When was the last time you looted your neighbor's vegetable garden?

You will observe, however, the success of farmer's markets, ham radio clubs, and drinking/dancing/watering holes.

Read Tom Baugh's new book Starving The Monkeys and prove us wrong!

John and Dagny Galt
Starving The Monkeys, Owners Manual For The Universe!(tm)


Not until...

Jim Peterson's picture

...broadband is available in all areas will this become the monster everyone is predicting. Too many folks who live in rural areas are not served by even basic cable or DSL services, largely because the providers can't show an ROI in less than 3 years. And like previous comments, I am not going to trust ANY of my data to "the cloud." NO CLOUD PROVIDER CAN GUARANTEE THE CHAIN OF CUSTODY OF YOUR DATA, especially if they sub-contract the service to a third party! I'll not take a Googlebook. It probably won't do what I need anyway since it won't run Windows XP or even a virtual machine, which I need for a very specific task.

I agree jacksinn "the

steve_'s picture

I agree jacksinn "the hardware lock-in that they are adopting. It's way too reminiscent of Apple." I do not think I would want a net book like this. If I am say at Linux Journal on the web and you have a few ads in the side bar that is no bother to me. I do not want to have to deal with ads to write text document because my word processing program is in the cloud an ad subsidized. I hate to see computers go the way of the cellular phone industry. We pay for over priced crippled hardware that you only get a deal if you sign a two year contract. Otherwise the price is five times higher than what the actual resale value should be. I am definitely skeptical.

No, and here's why

David Lane's picture

Perhaps I live in a technologically backwards town (I do), or perhaps I have just been around too long (I have) or perhaps I have watched this all before when my father was in this racket thirty years ago (I have and he was) or maybe, just maybe I have heard this song and dance before (yup).

There are some that would succeed with a machine like these. These are people that 1) have little or no technical knowledge; 2) have little or no need to keep any data and 3) have access to cheap, always on, Internet access; 4) have no security or technology restrictions.

Here in Washington, DC, number 4 completely trumps any sort of "someone else manages it" system. Number 3 is a close second. Wireless access is plentiful, if you have the money to pay for it. Unrestricted access is not so plentiful, with most wireless systems locked, blocked and stocked.

This is not the first time we have seen the "light" or "dumb" terminal model, and yes, there are those that could benefit from this. Those that will not or are not capable of learning a new technology (or don't want to). There are a lot of these people. They don't do more than surf the web, look at pictures, maybe a video, and check their emails.

But as soon as you get into the realm of having to keep your data, than someone else managing your data has to be someone you trust (implicitly) or that your company can throttle if the data goes away...and that is never going to be possible if Google is managing your data.

No, thanks. I will keep maintaining my own system, without worrying about ads, or someone else running my system.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

Well, I'd have no problem.

@Deblopper's picture

Well, I'd have no problem. I'm not much affected by the ads (in any sites) they don't distract me or get me clicked on (don't know why, I involuntarily ignore ads). So, I'd say "Yes".

But wait... isn't Google making a strong hold over world IT? First, web crawlers (well, we did & do like the search engine, admit it) then gradually getting more & more inside, all the possible methods of having & storing users' personal data & information (do I need to say more ?)

Why do I feel like Google seems quite a lot of some of the Sci-Fi movies with covert futuristic EVIL researches & application about constant vigilance on public activity?

Chrome Browser's Installation on User Directory, Chrome OS, SPDY... and many more (what more you need anyway) !

I Loved you Google, I think I still do... but I think both Antitrust & Privacy policy is harmed !

***if you post comment on my post, please send me a twitter mention, so that I'd know.

Hardware Lock-In

jacksinn's picture

I, for one, do not like the hardware lock-in that they are adopting. It's way too reminiscent of Apple. I know the community is high on the 'now is the time of the Linux desktop' kick but I'm very wary of software that only works with certain hardware and none of your data storage is local. I do use some online apps to do minor work but mostly I use more robust, locally executable applications and sync my files via Dropbox. With this solution, I have access to my Documents anywhere but I also effortlessly maintain local copies across all my computers.

It's open source

Anonymous's picture

You don't actually think people aren't gonna port chromium to other systems, do you? I can guarantee without a doubt that the community will run away with this, and make it run on everything and maybe even throw storage into their version.

The Average Person Doesn't Care About Hardware/Vendor Lock-in!

John and Dagny Galt's picture

The Average Person Doesn't Care About Hardware/Vendor Lock-in!

Free netbook, free internet, and freebies at the door as Google, Amazon, Home Depot, Best Buy, Walmart, and others compete for your patronage!

Welcome to the future!

John and Dagny Galt
Atlas Shrugged, Owners Manual For The Universe!(tm)



jacksinn's picture

And that's the problem. It takes people like us who are in the know to stand up for people who are otherwise oblivious. It's the same in other areas of our lives. It's called consumer advocacy - it's nothing new.

The PC is not a dumb terminal

silentivm's picture

I don't want my computer to become a dumb terminal, highly dependent on internet and with no storage I can trust nobody (except for me and authorized people) will have access to.

CC, for me, is worse than closed file formats: it's about losing ALL control over your data.

alternative service

Pingu's picture

you wont have to. as long as the service is "web based" rater than just "chromebased", (platform system vs system to access platform) you could very well then get by with your own on foot system (even a Windows one) and have "secure" cloud at home for it. Google would still get the "benefit" of your surf habits but at least not your bookmarks. ;)

in any case, a similar system would be almost as easy to set up. I would go for an encrypted mirror file on a Linux server at home, and if Google wont let me encrypt the more important data from it to my Googlepad I might not buy one. if so, Id just use a pure Linux webportal on a similar device instead. we all know there will be clones in mass to use for that.

and like said by some, there is already lots of services not intended for this but being well suited for it. Dropbox, Opera Unite and others also makes the user less dependant on his/hers own server.

The Future Of The Internet And Access Devices

John and Dagny Galt's picture

The Future Of The Internet And Access Devices

In the near future Google, Amazon, and Walmart will offer no-charge netbooks. These netbooks will have no hard drive and the firmware will be maintained and updated through the service. Your Googlebook, Amazonbook, or Walmartbook will replace millions of desktops, laptops, PDAs, cellphones, ipods, and GPS devices. Your no-charge Googlebook will provide you with no=charge internet access through the Google Portal. Your Amazonbook will read you books, play you music, play radio stations and sports programs, give you turn by turn directions to wherever you want to go on the planet's surface.

Most people will cancel their land lines, cable tv, and hardwired internet in favor of these devices. Those previously employed by the cable companies and the telephones companies will fill the unemployment lines as we enter an entirely new paradigm.

Walmart might even pay you to start using their Wallybook. In the near future you will work at Walmart, get paid in Wallybucks, pay your bills at Wallybank, get all your healthcare needs taken care of at Wallymedicalcenter/hospital, and so on and so forth.

You can deny the future but the future will come to pass anyway.

Prepare to be literally blown away by the paradigm shift!

John and Dagny Galt
Atlas Shrugged, Owners Manual For The Universe!


Oops, Forgot To Warn All Those Microsoft Folks...

John and Dagny Galt's picture

Oops, Forgot To Warn All Those Microsoft Folks...

About their PINK SLIPS...hahaha!

Open Source Wins!



Big Brothers Wet Dream

Anonymous's picture

To me the whole idea of getting a 20 USD laptop thats is based upon acsess to the net, sound not only as the end of privacy, but also welcome to new costs.

In the long run, or very soon, you probably have spent whatever you saved on usage of internet. Cause that actually is going to cost money in the future as well.

Everything Google talks about here, already exists. Apart from the webbased whatever ever idea.

Thanks Google, but no thanks...

Wifi is getting cheaper too...

Glyn Moody's picture

...so eventually that might be thrown in as part of the deal (or at least an allowance each month).

And sadly, people often look at the apparent savings, not the real ones...

Hmmmm. No

Sassinak's picture

I was about to answer "Yeah!", 'til I read the rest of the article. Now, I wonder if Google itself realises just how dangerously pervasive it's making itself. Is Google still a service ? To whom?


Marcel (Writer and Free Thinker at Large) Gagné's picture

Is Google still a service?

I don't know about you, but when I search for information online, I use a search engine called Google. At no point do I think, "Hey, there's always Bing or Yahoo! or AltaVista or searchitformebaby.com." Nope, those are merely curiosities (though I might consider that last one). Speculations about Google's creation of an evil empire to make Big Brother blush aside, yes, I consider it a service.

-- Marcel (Writer and Free Thinker at Large) Gagné


Glyn Moody's picture

This is about making that two-edge sword even sharpter: lots and lots of advantages, lots and lots of disadvantages... Where do we draw the line?

Where Do We Draw The Line!?!

John and Dagny Galt's picture

Where Do We Draw The Line!?!

hahaha, you're kidding right?

The free market and the consumer will speak loudly when they flock by the millions to this new paradigm.

We cannot stop the Tsunami, but we can ride that wild beast!

No one can stop the future and the massive paradigm shift!

John and Dagny Galt
Atlas Shrugged, Owners Manual For The Universe!(tm)


Reasonable but ...

MisterRo's picture

I have to agree that this sounds like a direction that Google should be exploring, assuming that they're prepared to sink enough up-front cash into it.

But, me ... well, maybe I'm just old-fashioned but I like to have some kind of local storage, and the ability to use apps and data without the net connection.

I know that things are changing, but there will always be areas where the wireless/mobile net coverage is (shall we say?) sub-optimal. Heck, I live in one. What am I meant to do then?

And that's before we even contemplate the necessary restrictions that this places upon our freedom to choose the applications that we want to use, or the reasonable nervousness at trusting even more data to Google's servers.

I have a neat little netbook and I love it to bits but it has solid-state storage built in and USB/SD ports, and runs Linux and all the apps that are available for that. This might not suit Google's business-plan, but it's a model I can see myself sticking with for the foreseeable future, irrespective of whether Google offer me something for free or not.

what of the future?

Glyn Moody's picture

I agree that it's nice to have local storage, but more and more people seem to be adopting Web-based solutions. Maybe it's a generational thing, and those who insist on hoarding data at home are looked on as weird old people collecting milk bottle tops...

weird "old" people, indeed

Anonymous's picture

Shame on you Glyn Moody. Don't go categorizing "old" people as weird; however, I will agree that some people including "young", "old" and in between might be considered to be somewhat eccentric.

Go suck a lollypop!

A (not-so-old) older netizen.

sorry - messed up the threading...

Glyn Moody's picture

see the "hey" comment above...