Google Chrome-powered notebooks on sale next year

Google is building its Chrome operating system into notebook computers that will hit the market next year in a challenge to software at the heart of Microsoft's empire.

The technology giant on Tuesday began releasing an unbranded notebook to businesses and consumers as part of a pilot program aimed at testing a computing model that shifts operating software into the Internet "cloud."

"For us, it is a long journey building a true cloud computing model," Google vice president of product management Sundar Pichai said while demonstrating the Chrome operating system at a press event in San Francisco.

"That is what we are working on," Pichai said.

Taiwan's Acer and South Korea's Samsung are building Chrome notebook computers that will go on sale next year, according to Pichai. Pricing will be revealed by the notebook makers closer to launch dates.

Organizations signed on to take part in the pilot program include the US Department of Defense as well as Kraft, American Airlines and Virgin America.

People can apply online at google.com/chromeos to join the Google notebook test group.

Google has partnered with US telecom titan Verizon to provide wireless broadband connections for Chrome notebooks.

"Not only is this the right time to build these products, but because they work they will be very successful," Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said.

"Cloud computing will define computing as we all know it in the coming decades."

Schmidt added that Chrome will be a "viable third choice" when it comes to operating systems for laptop computers. Microsoft Windows software has long been the ruling operating system in the world computer market.

Shifting operating software to banks of servers on the Internet means that Google will tend to matters such as updating programs and fending off hackers and malicious software.

Advantages include quick start-ups from disk-drive free machines, long battery life, and essentially being able to dive into one's desktop data from anywhere on the Internet.

People will also be able to share their computers, with the operating system preventing snooping on one another.

"My friend has no access to my data, and once he closes the notebook anything he did is erased," Pichai said of a guest mode. "We call this a 'friends let friends log in' mode."

Data is cached so Chrome OS users can access Web programs and content offline, but the notebooks are being built with broadband connections to synch with wireless telecom networks.

"We've put in a lot of work to make sure users always have the option to stay connected with the Chrome notebook," Pichai said.

A launch deal with Verizon will provide Chrome notebook users 100 megabytes of wireless data per month free for the first two years.

Verizon data plans include a 9.99-dollar "day pass" or paying only for amounts of data sent over the network.

Google is making a mistake by challenging Microsoft's strong suit at a time when the Redmond, Washington-based software colossus is riding high with a Windows 7 release, according to analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group.

"This is very difficult turf to conquer," Enderle said of the Windows kingdom Microsoft has built.

"It is not a matter of something being better or not; it is tough to work against an entrenched product."

The kind of ubiquitous wireless broadband internet coverage needed to support cloud-based operating systems won't exist in the United States for nearly a decade, he added.

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney believes that while Google is fulfilling its promise of a Chrome operating system, the California technology titan is more focused on Android software for smartphones and tablet computers.

"Chrome seems to be a step-child of Google's imagination," Dulaney said.

"Android is just blowing out the doors of smartphones and tablets, and that has to be where most of their effort is."

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