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Google floats monthly subscriptions to Chrome OS notebooks

$28 a month for eternal hardware and software updates

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Google I/O Google will offer Chrome OS notebooks to business and students for a monthly subscription fee beginning June 15. The subscription will include both hardware and software updates.

Earlier this year, it was rumored that Google would offer its browser-centric notebooks under a subscription model, and the company made it official this morning at its annual developer conference in San Francisco. For businesses, monthly subscriptions are priced at $28 per user. For students, the price drops to $20.

The company will also offer businesses a web console for managing these Chrome OS notebooks, which Google is now calling "Chromebooks". The notebooks will be manufactured by Acer and Samsung.

On June 15, Acer and Samsung will also offer the same Chrome OS notebooks to consumers. Previously, the company said these devices would arrive around the middle of the year. These machines will be available from Best Buy and Amazon in the US, and they will also be sold in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, and Germany.

Samsung will offer a Chrome OS notebook with a 12.1-inch display, while the Acer display is 11.6 inches. The Acer model will be "more portable", according to Google. The Acer device will priced at $349 and up, and the Samsung model will start at $429. The cheaper devices will offer WiFi but not c3G cellular wireless, while the more expensive models will offer 3G as well.

Chrome OS is essentially Google's Chrome browser running atop a modified Linux kernel. The browser is the only local application, and all other apps run inside the browser, though you can install browser extensions. Google is intent on pushing users towards web-based applications, including its own Google Apps suite, but the company also paints Chrome OS as an effort to improve security. With the OS, each online app is run in its own sandbox, and the operating system attempts to identify malware at startup with a verified boot.

Google's pitch is that businesses will be attracted to the OS not only because of the added security but also because online apps would give them more control over how employees use their systems. The trouble is that Google Apps can't be used offline, but the company is working on a new offline system based on the HTML5 standard. Today, Google said that offline versions of Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs will be available "this summer", around the same time the first notebook are introduced.

In December, Google released a beta Chrome OS notebook, known as the Cr-48, to a limited number of users. The company had intended to release notebook to a wider market at that time, but it said the OS was not yet ready for sales to everyday buyers. AAmong other things, the OS did not play well with cameras and other USB devices, and it didn't provide anything close to useable local file system. It was painfully difficult to move files to and from web services.

But the company is now offering a new in-browser file manager and "file extension" APIs that allow applications to readily grab photos and other files from external devices and move them into web-based services. The file manager and the new APIs were demonstrated during this morning's keynote. ®

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