Will Google be charging a monthly fee for using Chrome OS notebooks? That's the latest rumor based on unnamed sources close to the project. The news follows reports that the release of Chrome OS-based notebooks was pushed back to Summer 2011 due to last-minute bug squashing and to improve "compatibility with devices such as digital cameras on Chrome OS."
According to sources, the Summer 2011 window has now been narrowed down to "June/July 2011." Google will reportedly sell these notebooks at a possible subsidized price, requiring consumers to front a large chunk of money, create a Gmail account, and then pay a monthly "subscription fee" for an undetermined length of time. It's not clear if this subscription model applies to mainstream Gmail.com users, or to Google Apps premier customers. There's also no indication that 3G connectivity will be part of the subscription package.
Chrome OS subscribers will reportedly shell out between $10 and $20 per month. As part of the deal, Google will be responsible for hardware refreshes as they're released-- an automatic hardware upgrade if you will. Faulty hardware will also be replaced for free as part of the subscription package. Additionally, consumers wishing to bypass the subscription fees can actually purchase the laptop outright for the full cost through OEMs.
Google is expected to distribute the Chrome OS laptops much like it does with Android-based devices-- they won't be sold directly from Google itself. For now, the search engine giant is remaining tight-lipped about a definitive release date. But if the subscription model is indeed valid, this will be an excellent way for consumers to get a laptop without having to shell out loads of cash at the register. The hardware insurance and upgrades alone may be worth the monthly $20 fee.