Google Chromebook – To the Cloud with a Rented Computer

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To the cloud. That’s become the tagline for so many Windows commercials lately, but it’s really Google that has embraced the idea of cloud computing. And now finally, after oh so much waiting, Chrome OS is finally ready for the primetime in the form of the new Google Chromebook series of products.

As with Android smartphones, Google is only supplying the software side of the equation here. The first batch of Chromebooks will come by way of Samsung and Acer, though other manufacturers will likely join the fray in due time. In case you missed the official announcement, you can catch that on the official Google Blog, as well as a brief write-up by our very own James White.

Two Big Reasons Why Chromebooks Make Sense

Think about what you do on your computer most of the time. You’re watching videos on YouTube, tweeting buddies on Hootsuite, and checking messages on Gmail. These are all in the cloud. And this is the single biggest reason why the Chromebook series makes sense.

It effectively gets rid of the traditional operating system and boils it down to a glorified web browser. ChromeOS (technically called Chromium) is little more than the Chrome browser with some added bells and whistles. This means that you never have to worry about updates and patches. You never have to concern yourself about viruses. And you know you’ll have all your content anywhere, even if your Chromebook falls in a river.

The other selling point is an interesting one. Instead of buying a Chromebook, you can just rent one. Businesses pay $28 per month and schools pay $20 per month. In doing this, you never mess with updates and any hardware replacements happening automatically too. This offers some great peace of mind for institutions. It also means that if little Timmy spills his orange juice on a Chromebook, the school didn’t just lose a few hundred dollars.

Two Bigger Reasons Why Chromebooks Could Fail

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And it’s almost related to that last positive that we find our first negative. The initial batch of Chromebooks is far too expensive. The Samsung Series 5, which is not at all like the Series 9, is priced at $429 or $499. The former is WiFi-only, whereas the latter adds 3G to the mix.

Remember that the specs are pretty standard netbook fare with a dual-core Atom N570 processor and 2GB of RAM. The thing is, you’re basically getting a crippled netbook that can’t do the offline things you normally do on a Windows netbook. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it make more sense to buy a $300 Windows netbook and run the Chrome browser in it?

And that’s partly where we get the second big pitfall: lack of choice. If something doesn’t work properly in Chrome OS, you’re pretty much stuck until Google fixes it. Encounter the same issue in Chrome browser and you can give it another go in Firefox, Opera, IE, or whatever else. Not liking Windows? Go ahead and use Ubuntu instead. You have a choice. With Chromebooks… not so much.

Yet Another Niche Product in Your Arsenal

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It’s going to take a major paradigm shift before we can live completely on the web. Yes, Angry Birds has been ported to the Chrome Web Store and yes, I haven’t used a desktop-based e-mail program in quite some time, but I can’t imagine relying completely on cloud-based services. Not yet. This is just like how you can’t abandon your desktop and live solely on an iPhone.

And I think that’s where Chromebooks are going to fit into this market. It’s going to carve out another niche for itself, effectively competing against other secondary computing devices like tablets and netbooks. However, until the price comes down to the lower end of netbooks, I can’t see why I’d blow $500 on a Chromebook. At $200, that’s a different proposition altogether.

About

Michael Kwan is a freelance writer who also happens to be a professional gadget geek. From smartphones to digital cameras, he's gotta get 'em all. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelkwan.

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