John Paczkowski

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Google Execs Talk Chrome, Chromebooks

The second day of Google’s I/O conference brought with it a raft of Chrome-related announcements and nearly as many questions. In a Q&A session after Tuesday’s keynote, a panel of Google executives did their best to answer them. Fielding questions this morning: Google co-founder Sergey Brin; Sundar Pichai, SVP of Chrome; Linus Upson, VP of Engineering; and Directors of Product Management Ian Ellison-Taylor and Caesar Sengupta.

How do you reconcile this new Web-based model of computing with the ones we use currently?

Pichai: We are focused on creating unique computing experiences based on the Web. This is a very different model, but it will naturally co-exist with other models of computing.

Brin: I think it’s just a much easier way to compute. Ultimately the most precious resource is the user’s time.

How will you market the Chromebook?

Pichai: We look forward to getting the word out about Chrome and the Chromebook, but our partners will market their specific devices.

Have you given any though to making the Chrome Web Store available on other browsers?

Upson: Yes, we’ve been talking with other browser developers, like Mozilla and standards bodies so that over time we’ll be able to have the Chome store available on other browsers.

What did you learn from the beta? What are the trade-offs you have to make with this sort of computing?

Pichai: Just from a personal experience, giving it to my family and friends, it’s amazing to see how much they used it….We’ve given it to children, my daughter has one. Overall, the feedback has been positive….There have been some criticisms, the file system which we’ve now resolved….People have said they’d like the devices to be faster, which is why we’re using this new Intel processor….And we’re constantly improving Chrome itself, so the devices are just getting better. But with the Cr-48s, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

What sort of support infrastructure have you put in place for Chromebook subscriptions?

Sengupta: It’s effectively the same service and support plan that we’ve been offering our enterprise customers through Google Apps.

Pichai: [Anecdote about getting a Chrome laptop up and running in 4 minutes] End to end this is a very different experience from a support standpoint. Since you’re not installing software on the computer, it tends to work a lot better….One of the costly parts of enterprise computing is provisioning new computers. This is something that we’d like to see go away.

What percentage of Google is still on Windows?

Brin: “I don’t have an exact number for you. I’d guess maybe 20 percent, but I’d have to get back to you. … I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with Windows. It has a lot of great security features. But I think the complexity of managing your computer is really torturing users … It’s torturing everyone in this room. It’s a flawed model fundamentally. Chromebooks are a new model that doesn’t put the burden of managing the computer on yourself. I hope next year to be able to report that we have a very small percentage of our employees using anything other than Chromebooks.”

Why should Chromebook users trust Google with their data?

Brin: This model doesn’t say ‘just trust Google’. You’re free to use other services. … You are trusting Chrome and Chrome OS to protect you against malicious things. You can go to any Web site out there. The Chrome team’s job is to make sure those sites can’t do malicious things to you.

Your CFO recently said that everyone that uses Chrome is a “locked-in” user. Can you comment?

Pichai: He misspoke. There is no lock-in. You can change your settings at any time.

Will Chromebooks be SIM-locked?

Sangupta and Pichai both note that it’s very easy to swap out SIMs on the Cr-48 and the same will be true of the Chromebook.

What’s the Chromebook hardware upgrade cycle look like?

Pichai: The current enterprise plan is for three years, so at the end of three years you’ll get a new Chromebook. But there is warranty support as well, so if something goes wrong with the device before that we’ll obviously replace it.

Any details on that $500 million DOJ charge?

Brin: “Fortunately, since we changed roles a few months ago, I don’t have to deal with filings, and the DOJ, the SEC or other acronyms.”

Is there competition between the Android and Chrome teams?

Pichai: Our goal is to focus on the users and bring the best ideas forward. We share common code and infrastructure with the Android team, but the final product is two different visions.

A final question: Aren’t you creating a sort of walled garden on Chromebooks by creating a Google-centric experience

Pichai: We are presenting the Web. I cannot imagine a more contextually open design. Everything is a link away….If you want to use Yahoo Mail, you just add a bookmark….I think this is really one of the most open operating systems around.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus