Google got a big new ally in its Chrome OS push today:.
Although Lenovo is a notable ally, it's only really a foot in the door for Google. Lenovo's new ThinkPad X131e Chromebook is only geared for schools. Presumably it could lead to greater things for Google if the device gets a good reception, but this shouldn't be confused with Lenovo pushing a mainstream device the way the two existing Chrome OS partners, Acer and Samsung, have done.
It's not clear whether Lenovo has grander ambitions for Chrome OS, something that might cause alarm at Microsoft since it threatens both Windows and Office. Lenovo didn't respond to a request for comment on its plans but we'll update this story if it does.
Other Chrome OS devices are in the works, judging by code names for hardware platforms surfacing in the software's source code and issue tracker. Francois Beaufort, who pores through those sources, said yesterday that Lenovo has been working on a Chrome OS device code-named Stout. He also said another device in the works, called Kiev, is a Chromebox from Acer. So far only Samsung has shipped a Chromebox, a standalone PC that lacks a Chromebook's built-in keyboard, mouse, and monitor.
Chrome OS is a browser-based operating system; although it runs Linux under the covers, all the software people use are Web sites or Web apps. That means no Photoshop, Skype, iTunes, or Call of Duty, but it's fine for looking up recipes, connecting on Facebook, checking e-mail, and using Google Docs.
Chrome OS is a natural fit for Google Apps -- a subscription service that grants access to a variety of browser-based Google services including Gmail, word processing, calendars, and presentations. It ordinarily costs $50 per user per year, but Google Apps for education customers is free -- a nice deal compared to Microsoft Office.
The ThinkPad X131e is a rugged design that already was available with Windows. It'll be available starting February 26 for schools that bid for it.
The laptop has an 11.6-inch, 1,366x768 LED antiglare screen, three USB ports, HDMI and VGA video ports, and an Intel processor. Lenovo promises the battery is enough to last a full day of school. The Windows version of the X131e, using a 1.40GHz Intel Core i3-2367M Processor with 3MB cache, starts at $619.
What did Lenovo do with the Windows key on the laptop? Changed it into a search key, naturally. Unlike the Samsung and Acer Chromebooks, which weren't variations on Windows machines, that means it still has a caps lock button.