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CHALLENGE FROM THE CLOUD

Google touts its Chromebook laptops, which store data on the Internet instead of on hard drives, as superior to Microsoft-based computing.

By CLAIRE CAIN MILLER

New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO - Google took another swipe at Microsoft last week when it introduced a new kind of computer called a Chromebook that stores everything online.

Google says the device will eliminate the need for software updates and hard drive backups and will boot up within 8 seconds. It hopes the Chromebook will replace PCs running Microsoft's Windows software.

"I think Chromebooks are a new model that doesn't put the burden of managing your computer on yourself," said Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder.

Google's biggest challenge will be persuading people to do computing in a completely different way. The Chromebooks, named after Google's Chrome operating system, will store all of a user's data and the computer's software online. Google's idea is that anyone could walk up to an Internet-connected computer anywhere and have access to his or her information.

But since most computer users are accustomed to using desktop software and storing data on a computer's hard drive, getting people - and corporate managers of information technology - to change will be difficult, said David Daoud, research director for personal computing at IDC.

The Chrome operating system, which Google introduced in 2009, does away with desktop software and storing data on a computer. Instead, it is not much more than a browser, and all of a computer user's information - such as documents, photos and e-mail messages - is stored on the Internet, or in "the cloud." Instead of desktop software such as Microsoft Word or iPhoto, people use Web-based software such as Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365 or Picasa.

Some analysts have doubts that most companies' technical departments will adopt Chromebooks. Businesses worry about the security of storing data on the Internet, saying it could get stolen or cloud computing services could break down, as happened with Amazon recently.

And businesses often rely on desktop software - accounting, publishing or customer relationship software, for instance - that is not available on the Web. Workers also generally need reliable data connections. The Chromebooks use WiFi and cellular phone connections and won't do many tasks without them.

Google's strategy is to go after businesses and schools first. If students get used to a Web-based operating system, they might request it in their offices later on, and if people use it at work, they might decide to buy it for their homes.

The first Chromebooks, made by Samsung and Acer, will start at $349 and be available June 15 from Amazon.com and Best Buy. The computers, along with the software and technical support, will also be available to rent for schools and businesses at a cost of $20 a month per student or $28 a month per employee.

Google is selling three-year subscriptions, which include computers, technical support and new machines after three years - or, if they malfunction, earlier. Google said Intercontinental Hotels, Groupon and Logitech have already begun using Chrome.

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