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Google Portables Technology

Would You Use a Free Netbook From Google? 435

Glyn Moody writes "The response to Google's Chromium OS has been rather lukewarm. But suppose it's just part of something much bigger: a netbook computer from Google that would cost absolutely nothing. Because all the apps and data are stored in the cloud, storage requirements would be minimal; screens are getting cheaper, and the emphasis on lean code means that a low-cost processor could be used. Those relatively small hardware costs could then be covered by advertising in the apps — after all, they are just Web pages. Interestingly, Google has not only rolled out advertising to more of its services recently, it has also started running AdSense ads in the desktop application Google Earth. Would you accept a free Google netbook — or is the price you would pay in terms of the company knowing even more about what you do on an hour-by-hour basis just too high?"
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Would You Use a Free Netbook From Google?

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  • by asicsolutions ( 1481269 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @11:37AM (#30214260) Journal

    Someone will figure out how to hack it and use it for whatever you want.

    Sign me up

  • Pay (Score:3, Interesting)

    by truthsearch ( 249536 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @11:39AM (#30214288) Homepage Journal

    I would pay to not see the ads. I would also pay to retain control over the device (assuming the give-away would be a type of lease).

    But the privacy arguments are an issue whether or not you buy the device. If your apps are on the web, they're on someone's servers, whether you paid for the client or not.

  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @11:40AM (#30214326) Homepage Journal

    I can see hotels, conference centers, and the like providing computers "brought to you by Google" or for that matter any advertising partner.

    Of course, to be a winner with businesses they would have to allow VPNs to work and would have to guarentee there were no keyloggers or other security issues with the device. That should be easy enough to promise if the device boots over the network from an authenticated and trusted source and the machine were epoxy-sealed to prevent tampering.

  • Re:Not possible (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnu p . net> on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @11:42AM (#30214350) Homepage

    As nice as it is to think that advertisements will cover everything, a single user isn't worth a $150+ netbook. Actually single user is worth a lot less for Google and other companies.

    I agree with this, although I think the hardware could be *much* cheaper than $150. Say $50, in time. But still advertising couldn't cover 100% of it.

    But what do you advertise on a spreadsheet app? Users aren't looking for any info or such - they're working on their spreadsheet.

    I have a Google Docs spreadsheet right here entitled "Warwick office Christmas Lunch 2009".

    Along with the column headings, there's a good chance Google's systems could guess it's a good place to advertise restaurants and pubs near Warwick.

    How many spreadsheets contain the name of a product, with the price alongside it? That's a signal to advertise that product.

  • by Dartz-IRL ( 1640117 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @11:43AM (#30214362)


    Aside from Gmail, (which I access with Thunderbird) I try not to use too many google services. . I'm also mindful of that recent Apple patent about ad's which can physically block the machine, forcing the user to interact with them.

    There's also a personal freedom/privacy issue.

    I use Linux because it's 'mine' as such. I can pretty do what I want with it (compared to traditional software licenses anyway). I'm not quite sure how to word this in a rational .... but something about Google providing me a free laptop, in exchange for being allowed to target-advertise me.... it's deeply unsettling. I don't like being followed.

    Of course, I'm just a tinfoil hat moron, but well.... my computer is my castle, thick stone walls around my data safeguarding my privacy against casual observers.
    I don't want transparent walls of glass showing my world to someone else.... even it it was free.

    It feels very Big brother-ish.

  • No Thanks (Score:2, Interesting)

    by OrangeMonkey11 ( 1553753 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @11:44AM (#30214370)

    My privacy comes with a higher price tag then just some POS hardware.

    I rather have my own hardware and software that does not call home every second I'm on it and throwing ads in my face constantly.

  • Re:Not possible (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @11:46AM (#30214402)

    I'd never use such an adware computer. My attention is worth far more than $150, more like 150$ AN HOUR.

    And I haven't even said anything about privacy yet.

  • Re:Not possible (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @11:46AM (#30214406)

    I don't think it has to be a $150 netbook. If all you are doing is regular internet surfing sans flash, an OLPC level book should be fine, and that was designed to be $100 years ago (although not quite reaching that level).

    The problem with free is that people won't value it enough to take care of it. They'll just trash it and move onto the next thing. But a $50 or $100 netbook would be huge for customers. Anything else on that level is usually a crappy toy.

    And just like Microsoft counts on people growing up on their OS, google could do the same here. Of course, I don't know if such a netbook will be worth it in the end in America, but definitely in third world countries.

  • Excuse me? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @11:49AM (#30214448)

    emphasis on lean code means that a low-cost processor could be used

    I must've missed a meeting. Emphasis on lean code? A 1.6GHz netbook CPU is considered bottom of the barrel performance-wise these days. That's 1600MHz. For reading email and web pages. Where is this lean code that you're talking about? How dare you talk about lean code on SLASHDOT, which uses so much scripting that it is slow as molasses on even moderately fast CPUs?

  • Re:Not possible (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JWSmythe ( 446288 ) <> on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @11:59AM (#30214616) Homepage Journal

    Well, the whole thing is speculation anyways, so it really doesn't matter.

        Plenty of companies sell or give away loss leaders. *IF* they did it, it could be used to get their product to market. They may give away the free version, with an upgrade path to a better version. They may give away the free version with pay features such as requiring a 2 year 3G contract, or pay to use the Google cloud services. Really, even without the advertising, it would be worth the money if they charged $10/mo for using their storage. The prices mentioned were retail prices. Just because something costs $200 in the store doesn't mean it costs the manufacturer $200. Usually it costs an awful lot less.

        Even the folks saying that they'd install whatever alternative OS on it, that would still be a minority, and they would make their money on the majority of the users.

        I doubt we'll see the Google branded free netbook anytime soon, but hey, it could happen. Or folks will continue to speculate about it. :)

  • by Like2Byte ( 542992 ) <Like2Byte AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:02PM (#30214648) Homepage

    The good gents at IBM didn't see the value in the "Operating System" Microsoft was selling them.

    The good gents at Microsoft didn't see the value in monitoring what their users' daily activity on their respective OS was.

    I wonder what the good gents at Google are ignoring today that will be a gold mine tomorrow.


    On another note: I'm very surprised that people are all that interested in what is, essentially, a SpyOS. Forget tracking cookies - this OS is going to be tracking people's behavior 24 hours a day.

    Not to provide any ideas into advanced Spywware under the guise of "free useful PC" but imagine if there is a GPS in the netbook that is able to track the users' movements. Traffic patterns, of the individual, could be analyzed and combined with other users and applicable advertising will show up for 'popular' products both in on-line advertising and roadside billboards.

    I don't want to get too far off topic so I'll ask this question: When did we turn the corner of being Anti-Spyware to being Pro-Spyware?

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:08PM (#30214730)

    i have already started teaching my son who is 2 and a few months about computers. found a few free games like Thomas the Train that he likes. and for reading i'll open up Google and type in Dora in the search box and spell it out for him letter by letter. he already knows most of the letters of the alphabet, can count to 12 with help, knows a bunch of basic shapes and colors. time to teach him to read since most of the good NYC schools expect a child to read and write by 1st grade. at least that's what i'm told by parents with kids that old. the good schools in the NYC suburbs are the same way.

    a free or ultra low cost Google netbook is perfect for this. my son likes to bang on the keyboard so if it breaks i just go get another one. nothing to break software-wise.

    a few months of playing with one of these junky useless Chrome OS gizmos and he will be ready for a real computer. i'm thinking a Mac just because he can learn some UNIX on it and it's usable unlike most of the linux distro's i've tried. I do think Ubuntu sucks as a home PC

    i've played with the Chrome OS vmware image floating around the internet and i don't think it has any value at all for a normal person or any kind of computer user i've ever met

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `'> on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:14PM (#30214802) Homepage Journal

    Your ego is much to big.

    No one need to follow you, and no one out side your circle of family gives damn about you.

    "It feels very Big brother-ish."
    IF ti were BIg Brother then you would be forced to take it, it would watch everything you do all that time, work to keep you ignorant.

    Google and the internet are the anti-thesis to Big Brother. So are a populace with cameras.
    LEt me know when only a large body control all information, can't be tracked, and controls all cameras, and actively hunts down people who innovate as a matter of course and policy.

    Contrary to what you are thinking right now, Google does not control in information, and if they did three are other alternative to that same information.

  • AdBlock (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Enderandrew ( 866215 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .werdnaredne.> on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:19PM (#30214898) Homepage Journal

    I can't imagine that Google likes AdBlock, but they've made no effort to stop people from developing AdBlock solutions for the Chrome browser. Likewise, Google is the primary source of revenue for Mozilla, and Mozilla says Google has never suggested they try to block AdBlock.

  • $150? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:30PM (#30215116) Homepage Journal

    What makes you think it would cost them $150 to make a netbook? If they have minimal needs in terms of memory and processing power it could be manufactured much more cheaply than that. I did some napkin math on a few things from a BOM on another product and discounted it heavily for very large volumes and ended up with $55.

  • Re:Not possible (Score:5, Interesting)

    by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @12:39PM (#30215228) Journal

    I think the issue goes deeper than CPM.

    If you get someone to use this as their daily computer and load something that can track their every move (not just on the Web, but how much time they spend in a spreadsheet, on Thunderbird, on IM, etc), you can build a really valuable profile on them that goes FAR beyond simple google-analytics tracking or web ad responses.

    You can start building predictable behavior models for a significantly large population.

    That is data you simply cannot buy today.

    Experiments like this have been tried in the past, all to end in failure, but that's because something like this requires REALLY cheap hardware (the costs model being so low that you don't care that half of your freebie customers are hacking the hardware and taking out your stuff or using it as a specific-purpose machine, because the remaining half are using the systems for everything exactly as you intended). The data, if it can be gathered successfully, makes the hardware cost look cheap by comparison.

    Armed with this data, Google could start predicting with pretty creepy accuracy what the response rate is going to be to a particular campaign. Then they can start charging a higher CPM for ALL of their advertising, because they can do what no one else in the industry is able to do. Guarantee a specific response rate based on a carefully-crafted campaign, that is crafted based on good models of how people act in real life.

    Under the current model, an advertiser approaches Google and says "we want to advertise this new vehicle". Google gets info on the vehicle and charges a CPM for sending hopefully relevant clicks through to the automaker's page.

    With the new data model in place and populated, the advertiser approaches Google and says "we want to sell 5,000 automobiles". Google can charge a flat rate per actual sale, which they can predict based on these models. They'll not only be able to predict clickthrough rates, but have a fair shot at actual sales.

    And this is not only the people who participated - they would in theory use google-analytics surfing data for the entire websurfing population combined with the models they've build based on the people they track to predict behavior for a much larger population.

    So, for example, they come out with a new ad for the "Ford Monopole", a hypothetical electric car. The looks appeal to a subset of their tracked population that are into certain TV shows, search for certain movies on IMDB, and get emails from people who are into similar things. Use the analytics data from those TV shows' web sites to determine fans of the show/movie, and you can target campaigns to those people.

    Yes, advertisers do this today, but this could bring it to a whole new level, because they'll know which cars their tracked population actually bought and what factors led up to that decision. Then they can extrapolate that out to the larger population for which they have less complete data.

    Creeped out yet?

  • Re:Not possible (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ClosedSource ( 238333 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @01:06PM (#30215628)

    Where do you think the savings should be coming from? You still need an LCD screen, video hardware, audio hardware, processor, RAM, etc. And you can't buy a generic netbook case like you can for a desktop PC.

  • Advertisers don't want clicks from users of what would be "welfarebooks".

    If they can't even afford $200 for a netbook, their demographics are horrendous. Advertisers base their CPM on such things as location, time of day, day of the week, referrer, OS (if I'm advertising pc software, I don't want mac user clicks, and vice versa), etc. Clicks from users of "free" computers won't generate revenue because advertisers will avoid them like the plague.

    These are the type of people who are the most likely to be engaged in click fraud, such as pay-to-click "make money at home surfing the web" scams. After all, if they can't afford a computer, they've got to pay for their net access somehow, and it's easier to do click fraud than to scrounge around the 'hood for returnable pop bottles.

  • Re:Not possible (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ClosedSource ( 238333 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @01:18PM (#30215784)

    The fact that OLPC specifically targeted a $100 machine and couldn't achieve it should tell you a lot about the feasibility of a sub $100 computer.

    Historically prices on PCs have come down, but the low end computers have started to reach a limit. A sub $100 laptop/netbook is about as practical as it was 5 years ago except that you can put more RAM in it now.

  • by Crazy Taco ( 1083423 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @01:34PM (#30215986)

    Lets say Google gets around $2 CPM on normal searches. That means a single search is worth something like $0.002 for Google. It's going to take lots of searches and ad clicks from every user to even cover the costs of the netbook.

    Exactly. And because of infinite demand, you'll really need a lot of clicks, but you probably won't get many. Here's why. Let's say you make something free. Say a McDonald's hamburger. Suddenly you are going to have everyone running out to get the hamburger, even though they weren't planning to get one today, just because it is free. Now consider a netbook. I really don't want one, but heck, if it's free I'll take one! Everyone would take one, whether they really wanted one before or not, because it's a free portable computer. Now most of those people will later put that netbook on a shelf to gather dust as soon as the novelty wears off, because they really didn't have a deep need/desire for the netbook in the first place. They've probably got a desktop or laptop that has more computing power, more privacy, and runs a greater variety of apps, so they won't really need the netbook. The problem for google is that each of those netbooks still cost them 150, and now they don't even have people using them and clicking on ads.

    So this will be a guaranteed fiasco for Google should they choose to go through with this. They will have to make about 305 million of the netbooks because everyone in the US will want one (ok, maybe 250 million because there will be some 1 year olds and grandmas that don't, but anyone who knows how to use a computer will probably take one). Multiply those millions of units by 150 dollars, and that's how much advertising dollars google will need to have just to break even. And that's oversimplifying things, because since the apps live in the cloud, you have to have the server infrastructure, bandwidth costs, engineering, support techs, software developers, etc. Their costs will be much greater than the costs for the Windows OS, because at least with a Windows OS you don't have to provide a server, bandwidth, PC, etc, because it's off running on a user PC somewhere. I think you start to see how there is no way this will possibly happen... no way can they get the ad revenue to cover this. Plus it's naive to assume that they will even get that many users (something they would have to have, since that's the only way they could truly corner the ad market and charge the premium prices they'd need to pay for this), since most people will probably stick with Linux, Mac, or Windows.

  • Re:Not possible (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @01:57PM (#30216250) Journal
    On the other hand, if it has ChromeOS installed and I can nuke it and install FreeBSD without violating the conditions of sale, then I'd be happy to pick one up for free, especially if it had an ARM CPU and decent battery life.
  • Re:A free _netbook_? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ephemeriis ( 315124 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @01:59PM (#30216296)

    1) We have a junk disposal problem with computers anyway; clogging it further with cheap machines isn't an answer.

    The reason we have a junk disposal problem is because the average consumer doesn't care about it. And since the average consumer doesn't care about it, it won't be an issue in rolling out more cheap machines.

    2) The decent machines cost money. Face it: quality costs, and subsidies by carriers/telcos/etc are false economy

    I agree that you generally get what you pay for. I understand that subsidies by carriers aren't actually making anything cheaper. But it does make things more accessible. If Verizon will give me a phone for "free" when I sign a two-year contract, that's all most people will see. And as far as actually getting a decent machine? Look around you. Disposability reigns supreme.

    3) You certainly jest when you reply, 'Maybe. Maybe not.' Who do you think you're kidding? Tethered broadband costs lots of $$ in the US, and the carriers are having trouble dishing up what they have (no fights regarding Verizon vs AT&T, etc.). Subsidized cell phones are the same scam.

    I do not jest, nor am I trying to kid anyone. I don't know what kind of leverage Google may have... I have no idea what kind of income they could make off a netbook... I don't know what kind of network infrastructure they might have... It might be cost-prohibitive to provide cellular data on a free netbook, it might not be.

    4) Netbooks fill a need, and I see that need. It also means that the cloud/SaaS apps that are required to be used to do something real are probably going to be tethered to a provider. ChromeOS means you better love Google.... or it will be difficult (probably not impossible) to move to someone else's meager offerings. Google's service levels aren't guaranteed, and if they're offline for whatever reason, go fish.

    Unless Google's free netbooks become more of a platform than a service themselves. I'm sure software companies would be happy to pay a fee to Google to make their new SaaS offerings available on Google's netbooks. And keep in mind that Google does have paid versions of their services.

    5) The average consumer REELS at having to dump their $500 machine every three years. They would (and so would I) prefer to invest every five or even more years in new hardware. But the stuff breaks, and is subject to the madness of Moore's Law, keeping up with the joneses, and so on. Six months? Ye Gawds, Man.

    Not because of the price... Or some emotional attachment to the hardware... Because of the data. It's a pain in the ass to move all your pictures and documents over to a new machine... Re-install all your software... But if everything lives on the cloud? What if you just put your username & password into any netbook and it suddenly becomes just like your home computer? All your data, all your programs... Because everything lives on the cloud.

    6) A good tool is a good tool. In my cabinet are lots of tools that are older than I am, and I'm a half-century-plus. These tools stand the test of time because they're quality devices. The concept of a disposable machine is as abhorent as disposable razors. If they can't built it well enough to withstand average use over a decent lifecycle, then they shouldn't build it at all. Look at the fate of General Motors for questions.

    In case you hadn't noticed, disposable razors are pretty popular.

    And I think this gets to the crux of our disagreement. You have a problem against disposable razors. You think something should be built to last and continue to be used for years. That's fine. That's a choice you can make. But that's not a value that everyone else holds. Like it or not, many people out there are just fine with their disposable razors. They're perfectly happy to buy cheap bits of plastic and throw them away, day

  • Re:Not possible (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kbielefe ( 606566 ) <karl.bielefeldt+ ...> on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @02:25PM (#30216612)

    Congratulations on making the first reasonable argument. Google has made way too many statements like "We are not interested in locking or preventing users from installing other operating systems, on their hardware if they so please." [] (toward the end) to make me believe an advertising model to offset free netbooks is viable. However, factor in a two-year contract for internet service, and it makes perfect sense. Google provides a simple, secure, easy to support, easy to upgrade OS, gaining some ad revenue, but doesn't lose much if the end user wipes the OS. The ISP assumes the financial risk with the contract, and gets the monthly payments in return, and can provide a usable netbook for cheaper thanks to the low hardware requirements of Google's OS, maybe even kicking part of the contract revenue back to Google in exchange for support. That sounds like the Google way.

  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @02:33PM (#30216702)

    3G connection, 3g enabled netbook. 20/month.

    25 and Google apps are thrown in.

    Without the netbook, just a sim? 20/month.


  • Re:Not possible (Score:2, Interesting)

    by suomynonAyletamitlU ( 1618513 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @02:56PM (#30217036)

    Yes, advertisers do this today, but this could bring it to a whole new level, because they'll know which cars their tracked population actually bought and what factors led up to that decision. Then they can extrapolate that out to the larger population for which they have less complete data.

    Creeped out yet?

    If the advertisers know what factors lead up to my decision, then they wouldn't show me ads unless I was in the market for that or something similar. I can understand the creepiness of that kind of mind reading, but if for example the ad host in question did a deal with you where you said what you were in the market for whenever you wanted something, and they turned off the ads when you were NOT going to buy anything, or at least reduced them to things that fall into your impulse buy range, then I can't see this being a bad thing.

    And really, once you get to the point you're talking about, it makes plenty of sense for you to actually have an account with the ad host so that you can have some explicit input anyway.

    (Cue a thousand cynical slashdotters telling me how business interests are never going to do anything halfway worthwhile for the consumer like that, even when it IS practical)

  • Re:Not possible (Score:2, Interesting)

    by indi0144 ( 1264518 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @04:00PM (#30217808) Journal
    >> Creeped out yet?

    Nope, but thats because my background education is in advertising. You sir, have outlined the wet dream of many advertising companies.

    And yes, I'd use a subsidized Google netbook even if I have a real laptop, it's an appliance not a real PC. The same as I'd use a subsidized coffeemaker if it's provided by mi favorite coffee brand under the condition to use it with said brand of coffee only, because I'm going to be buying that coffee anyway.

    Also, the coffee brand don't know about my coffee bush in my patio (I have one, really) and Google do not care if I install $random_linux_distro
  • Re:Not possible (Score:4, Interesting)

    by xonicx ( 1009245 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @04:00PM (#30217810)
    May be google netbooks are small servers running on user's electricity and Internet bandwidth to serve other users.

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.