Google plans to offer students Chrome OS laptops for $20 per month and will announce the program during its Google I/O developer conference Wednesday, according to online rumors. The $20 monthly fee will provide students with a laptop loaded with Chrome OS (basically a browser in a box) as well as access to "online services," according to Forbes.
A similar rumor surfaced in late April saying that Chrome OS laptops would be available for $10 to $20 per month. The earlier rumor did not mention a student program. Forbes says its information is based on discussions with a "senior Google executive."
It's not clear what the new Chrome OS hardware would look like or how similar it would be to the 12.1-inch CR-48 proof-of-concept device distributed to journalists and select users in late 2010.
Current rumors suggest Chrome OS netbooks from Samsung and Acer are under active development. The Samsung device is rumored to have a 10-inch screen, 1.5 GHz Atom N550 dual-core processor, and 2GB RAM. Google has said all Chrome OS netbooks will use solid-state drives to offer a small amount of onboard storage.
The older Chrome OS subscription rumor, reported by Neowin, said the package would include periodic hardware refreshes, but it's not clear how often subscribers might be offered a new laptop. Google would also replace a subscriber's device should the hardware fail, according to the older rumor. Chrome OS laptops would also be offered to regular consumers for a one-time fee, according to Neowin, something that Google has been promising for nearly two years. The previous rumor also said Chrome OS laptops would be available in June or July.
It's not clear what Forbes meant by the $20 student package combining both "hardware and online services." Google Web apps such as Google Docs and Gmail are already free for individual users and would be available with or without a Chrome OS laptop. Perhaps it means you will have access to enterprise versions of Google's online productivity apps through your university, but that is just speculation. Forbes expects Google's student offering is a pilot project before Google starts selling Chrome OS hardware subscriptions to enterprise customers.
Google gears replacement?
Another interesting tidbit at the end of the Forbes report is the claim by the unnamed Google executive that a replacement for Google Gears is close to release. Google Gears is a browser plug-in that caches recent data from Gmail and Google Docs to give you offline access to Google's Web applications. Google announced in early 2010 it had stopped active development of Gears, promising an HTML 5-based replacement in the coming months.