samsungGoogle has finally introduced the Chromebook, with models from Samsung and Acer. Google’s developers explained there’s a fundamental difference between the Chromebooks and netbooks. Chromebooks are essentially “tablets with keyboards,” whereas netbooks are shrunk-down Windows laptops. However, Google currently has no plans for putting Chrome OS on tablets without keyboards.

The Samsung model will be priced at $429 for wifi-only, $499 with 3G. The Acer version will cost $349 “and up”. However, in addition to selling them outright, Google will be offering rental models at $28 per month for enterprise users, and $20 per month for educational users. (A few weeks ago, I mentioned a rumor that such subscription plans would be available.)

These subscription fees will require a 3-year contract, and will include hardware, software, updates, patches, and hardware maintenance. And while that will end up coming to about twice the cost of a straight-out bought Chromebook on its own, it also takes a lot of time-consuming IT work of patching and maintenance off the hands of consumers. It might be extremely attractive to large-scale educational or enterprise users. As Engadget points out:

Let’s look at it another way: if you ran a school with thousands of students, would you rather pay $400 up-front per student for a machine that you’d need to continually maintain and troubleshoot, or pay around 2.5x as much over the course of three years for one that includes a direct help line? Amortizing costs goes a long way in a place where budgets matter.

The tablets’ beta testers, including corporate and educational users, report being very impressed with the experience.

As for schools, Rachel Wente-Chany, the CIO of the High Desert educational service district in Oregon, says the machines are perfect for kids. They boot up in seconds and kids are already used to doing everything on the web.

“With kids, they flip the lid and they are online,” Wente-Chany said. “They don’t spend eight minutes booting up and authenticating with the network,” which she described as a waste of classroom time.

It’s going to be very interesting to see what the repercussions are for ordinary people. Will this subscription model lead other companies to start offering similar programs? Might someone decide to “rent” e-book readers on a monthly fee?

It’s going to be interesting to find out.