It's for the devs, silly.
The first Chrome OS devices may be launching VERY soon. We reported earlier on a Digitimes rumor that the first mini-netbooks running Chrome would hit later this month. The rumor stated that this branded machine would NOT launch through retail channels.
If true, these rumors mean that Google is trying the same plan that failed with the Nexus One. Direct sales through Google Checkout did not work well for a smartphone. But that same distribution method may be exactly what the doctor ordered for mini-netbooks. Google is only looking to sell 60-70,000 of these units. They aren't expecting great financial rewards here.
This first Google-branded Chrome OS notebook sounds like it is being designed, built and marketed primarily for developers. The people who will work to build Chrome OS into something truly competitive. By selling a branded machine directly, Google can ensure their devs have access to a high-quality device with an absolute stock version of the OS.
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While the Nexus One was not a huge commercial success, it was and remains well-loved by developers. Regular consumers, the folks who just want a device that fills a need, prefer to buy their phones from the carrier because that is how they have always done things. Gadget nerds, the sort of folks who program apps and hack devices, are willing to go through some extra trouble to ensure a pure product.