What’s the deal with Chromebooks?

Acer Google Chrome Notebook

We are approaching a new milestone on the mobile computing continuum.  The lines that once separated traditional laptops from cloud laptops are becoming amorphous.

When Adam Osborne created the worlds first portable microcomputer in 1981, no one could have imagined the metamorphosis mobile computing would accomplish over 20 years later.  Osborne’s computer came stocked with a whopping 64KB of memory (yup, that’s Kilo-bytes), weighted 23.5 lbs and sold for $1,795 dollars.

Osborne Introduces Portable Computer

Today you can buy a Chromebook Pixel replete with 64GB of memory, weighing a feather light 3.35lbs for only $1,449.

Now, I’m no mathematician but I think that computes to a 19% cost savings.

Okay, so this is the thing – I’m not bashing Osborne; after all he was a self-made savant and his little computer was unadulterated genius.  My point is simply that technology has made an arduous odyssey from its embryonic stages and is now reaching new heights.

Back in the early 80’s mobile computing was a nascent possibility but today is a ubiquitous reality.  Mobile computers are everywhere and the latest kid on the block is Google’s svelte new toy known as the Chromebook.

What is it?

Chromebook Chrome OS Sign-in

The above is screenshot from the new operating system that decorates all Chromebooks.  Looks nice doesn’t it? But what exactly is a Chromebook? Is it just a new kind of laptop?

Not really.

Think of a Chromebook as the new Netbook.

Netbooks were the computing industries first forays into the ultralight, ultracheap notebook revolution.  I like to call Netbooks the poor-mans laptop because they offered all the major benefits of a full fledged laptop sans the cost.

But the Netbook really never caught on.  It began exhibiting signs of extinction when PC makers such as Dell and Lenovo began churning out smaller, cheaper laptops.  And when you couple this with the ascendancy of tablets and you have a fine recipe for decimation.

The competition began to forestall any ground the Netbook gained and soon it became moribund.

Just as the dinosaurs perished by an interstellar asteroid or hyperactive volcano so the Netbook succumbed to the veritable volcano of better-quality, cheaper laptops.

But Google did something different.

The Chromebook is a cross between a laptop and Netbook that blends the best of both worlds.

Like a laptop the Chromebook offers a full-sized keyboard, decent performance and an intuitive user interface and like a Netbook you’ll get excellent battery life and a lightweight chassis – all at a reasonable price.

The good

Like laptops, the Chromebook gets you on the web and has assorted apps; however, the Chromebook ousts the competition with its tight cloud integration.  Instead of installing applications onto your hard drive you use them directly from your web browser.

Initially, this thin client functionality might seem like a liability:

Are you telling me all I get is a web browser?

Yes and No.

Yes you get the Chrome web browser but you also have access to the Chrome OS which is the Google operating system that actually runs your Chromebook.  The Chromebook doesn’t use Windows or MacOS X, instead it embraces it’s own derivation of the Linux kernel to offer the stability and performance requisite for running modern apps.

You should watch Google’s three minute video explaining what the Chrome OS is.  Ultimately, Google realizes that most users spend 90% of their time on the internet in a browser.  The Chromebook operates on the premise that when most people fire up their computers the first thing they want to do is just hop on the web.

In other words, with a Chromebook, pressing the on button get’s you on the internet.  And this happens very fast.

In fact, some Chromebooks only take a stunning 5 seconds to boot up.

Mobilegeeks.de recorded a video demo of this amazing feat.

Chrome OS bypasses the lengthy start up process which besieges most operating systems.  And you don’t have to deal with managing software updates or antivirus control because the Chrome OS takes care of all that jazz for you.

You can still play games, watch videos, author documents, stream music and check your email but nothing is ever stored on your physical computer.  This is why it’s also known as a web thin client because it only provides a web browser and stores all your stuff securely in the cloud.

Since most people use their computers for the internet anyway the Chromebook makes it really easy to just get on the internet without the hassle of waiting for the computer to load, update software and startup superfluous software.

So you can use cloud apps like Spotify for music, Box for storage, Pixlr for photos, Outlook for email, Vimeo for videos and Google Apps for productivity.  Virus protection is integrated and all software is automatically updated in the background; it’s really a beautiful thing.

That being said, there are a few disadvantages and I’m not being real with you I don’t share this with you.

You need the complete picture so I’m going to show you both sides of issue; the good and the bad.

The bad

First of all you can’t run Windows or Mac software on a Chromebook.

In my mind, this is the biggest issue; but if you think about Google’s purpose for the Chromebook as a disk-less workstation you’ll see this ostensible loss is really just a design feature.  I mean, you can’t run Windows programs naively on a Mac either so why should we expect to do the same in Chrome OS?

Incidentally, you can always install the free Chrome Remote Desktop or VNC viewer extensions which will give you remote connectivity to your Windows boxes so this objection isn’t major.

Secondly, don’t think of your Chromebook as a gaming workhorse.  The Chromebook has a processor that sprints to the finish line; however, beefier laptops, such as the drool worthy Alienware 18, will squash the Chromebook when it comes to powering today’s high performance games.  But is this a real problem?

The Chromebook lets you play a plethora of browser games. In the past five years, web technology has matured making it hard to distinguish browser games from stand alone applications.  For example, check out ChromeExperiments, BeGone and of course the perennial classic Wolfenstein 3D!  These games will certainly surprise you.

Thirdly, wait, thirdly is that a word? Ah, who cares, third of all you can’t hook your printer directly to your Chromebook.  Instead you have to use something called Google Cloud Print (You can watch the 3 minute video explanation on Youtube).

Fortunately, you can easily get your old printers working with Google Cloud Print or just purchase a new printer that supports Google Cloud Print.  You’ll find everything from Brother to HP in the list, heck you might already have a cloud-ready printer and you don’t even know it.  So check that support list before you buy anything.

The Bottom Line

Chromebooks are taking off.

Looking at a chart from the NPD group, it’s easy to deduce that the Chromebook is poised to slay the competition.

NPD Chromebook Sales

More and more people are jumping on-board because they see the benefits of portability and usability.  In addition, the low price point rivals that of larger, heavier laptops so it seems like a prudent purchase.

I wonder what Adam Osborne would think of this if he were alive today? I think he would smile because inside he would know that the Osborne 1 was the catalyst of global innovation.

Osborne died in March of 2003; however, the effects of his work lives on and has galvanized a new array of laptops that are already improving the lives of millions.

I tip my hat to Osborne for that… and you should to.

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