Reporting from San Francisco — Google Inc. launched an ambitious challenge to rivals Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. with laptops loaded with its Chrome operating system, a long-awaited push to get consumers to use online applications rather than download software to their computers.
The laptops, which Google calls Chromebooks, will go on sale in June, Google said Wednesday at its annual conference for software developers in San Francisco.
The laptops made by Acer and Samsung will start at $349 at Amazon.com and BestBuy.com. They also will be available for rent by schools and businesses for $20 a month for students and teachers and $28 a month for employees.
The Chrome operating system stores all files on the Web rather than on the computer. That means that users can access their documents, photos or e-mails on any computer that is connected to the Web.
Google is betting that consumers are ready to make the move from storing their data on their hard drive. It's offering the Chromebooks to businesses and schools, in part to get people used to the idea of computing on the Web.
Google's launch of the Chrome-powered laptops is another bid to take on Microsoft's lucrative software business with its own version of Microsoft Word called Google Docs and other products.
"We're venturing into a really new model of computing that I don't think was possible previously, even a few years ago," Google co-founder Sergey Brin said. "I think it's just a much easier way to compute. Ultimately the most precious resource is the user's time."
Google introduced the Chrome operating system in 2009. It showed off a Chromebook in December but it was only available through a pilot program,
"We finally get to discover if Chrome is going to have legs or not," said Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineLand.com. "To me, this is the ultimate extension of Google's belief in the cloud. They have been trying to get us to put our apps in the cloud. Now they are putting our machines there."
Brin declined to comment on Google's revelation in regulatory filing this week that it was setting aside $500 million for the potential settlement of a U.S. investigation into its advertising business.
The expense knocked its first-quarter net income down to $1.8 billion, or $5.51 a share. Google previously had reported a first-quarter profit of $2.3 billion.
"We believe it will not have a material adverse effect on our business," Google said in the filing.
Google makes almost all of its money from online advertising. The Justice Department is investigating the use of Google ads by "certain advertisers," the company said in the filing.
Google has come under heightened scrutiny from regulators in the U.S. and overseas. The disclosure in the regulatory filing signaled that the inquiry was escalating.
The Federal Trade Commission is looking into Google's dominance in the search business. Google already faces a full antitrust review from the European Commission.
In a research note, Standard & Poor's analyst Scott Kessler reiterated a "buy" rating on Google.
"This is a large sum, but Google had $35 billion in cash and marketable securities as of March. We view the potential conclusion of this matter as positive but do not know its nature or related details, and wonder whether it addresses multiple related issues across many jurisdictions," Kessler wrote. "Regardless of numerous legal and regulatory issues, we continue to view Google as compellingly valued."