chromemachines

Google on Tuesday announced a major set of updates to its Chrome OS, with a new version of the operating system, a new set of Samsung portable and desktop devices, and some new apps. The updates come about a year after the launch of Chrome OS, which has yet to generate any excitement with users or seize even a minimal slice of the market.

“We’ve heard from many of you who’ve enjoyed the speed, simplicity and security of your Chromebooks at home, at school or at work,” Google vice president Linus Upson writes in the Official Google Blog. “Today, we wanted to share some developments with you—new hardware, a major software update and many more robust apps—as we continue on our journey to make computers much better.”

Google’s hardware partner Samsung has released a new version of its Chromebook portable computer as well as the first Chrome OS-based desktop computer, a Mac mini-like unit called the Chromebox. The Samsung Series 5 Chromebooks come in both Wi-Fi and 3G/Wi-Fi versions like the previous generation, offer 12 inch screens, 4 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of solid state storage. Nothing special, but they do boot in about 7 seconds, according to Google, and resume instantly.

You can find the Chrome OS-based computers on Amazon.com and some other retailers, though availability can be very limited depending on where you are. The good news? They’re inexpensive: A basic Samsung Series 5 runs about $350, while the new Wi-Fi model is $450 and the 3G/Wi-Fi version is $550. The new Chromebox? Just $330.

Google hasn’t been ignoring Chrome OS over the past year, though it may feel like it sometimes. Chrome OS was recently updated with a new “app-centric” user interface that features a Windows 7-like taskbar. Google promises offline support for Google Docs and Google Drive in “the coming weeks.” And a Chrome Remote Desktop Beta lets you connect to your PC or Mac securely.

For businesses, Google is touting additional capabilities: Zero-touch deployment, hosted virtualization for Windows application compatibility, and simplified pricing (for education, too). Management and support is now a one-time cost of $150 per device for businesses and $30 per device for schools, and lasts for the supported life of the device.

Are these new devices worth it?  I don’t know: I still think Google should simply combine Android and Chrome OS into a single system. But the devices are cheap enough, that’s for sure.