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Google launches Chromebook laptops

Google has officially thrown its hat into the laptop ring, announcing the commercial launch of Chrome OS in the form of a 'Chromebook' - a laptop which, the company claims, brings with it a revolutionary new form of ownership.

While the company has played around in this arena before, launching the Cr-48 testbed netbook, the Chromebook range - announced late last night at the company's IO Conference - is to become the company's first run at a commercial launch.

The Chromebooks run the company's HTML5-based cloud-oriented operating system, Chrome OS - a Linux variant that uses the company's Internet-connected storage system and web-based apps.

As this requires a live Internet connection - without which the laptop is next to useless - Google has partnered with mobile networks in much the same way as Amazon with its 3G Kindle, offering models with integrated mobile broadband and 100MB a month free monthly usage.

Thanks to the pared-down operating system, the Chromebooks are fast - with Google claiming a boot time of eight seconds, and an instant-on resume mode for when the system's lid has been shut. Based on the company's Chrome browser, the OS also includes support for HTML5 and Adobe's Flash Player.

Perhaps the biggest change that Chrome OS brings over its more traditional equivalents is in updating: each time Google launches a new feature, it will be rolled out to all Chromebooks automatically and without user intervention - something the company describes as "like unwrapping a new computer every day."

Google's announcement was heavy on the 'security' aspect, claiming that the automatic update functionality, Chrome's sandboxing feature, and a hardware-based 'verified boot' system means that a Chromebook should never fall victim to malware or viruses - and includes a one-button system restore option to fix any software-related issues that may occur.

With security research outfit Vupen claiming to have broken Chrome's sandbox - although not on Chrome OS - however, Google may have to double-check its security claims.

The most surprising announcement, however, was of a new ownership model: pay-monthly. Aimed primarily at the education market, Google plans to sell Chromebooks on a leasing arrangement whereby users can pay $28 per month per head, for which they receive a Chromebook laptop with guaranteed software and even hardware upgrades for as long as they keep subscribing.

That pay-monthly model could, potentially, be the unique selling point that the Chromebook needs to succeed where other low-cost Linux-based devices, such as the original netbooks, failed in the Windows-centric world in which we live.

The company has partnered with Samsung and Acer to produce the hardware, with two models available from June. Samsung's offering includes a 12.1-inch 1280x800 display, 8.5 hours of battery life, an Atom dual-core processor, and weighs 1.48Kg. Acer's equivalent drops the display to an 11.6-inch version, a lower 6 hour battery life, the same dual-core Atom chip, but weighs slightly less at 1.34Kg.

If you're curious as to how Google intends to convince users to buy the Chromebook concept, check out the company's promotional video below.