I’ve recently had the pleasure of obtaining a Chromebook, and I’m in love… Well, more like love/hate, but it’s a start! The Google Chromebook (CR-48) is a step toward the future of cloud computing. As many of you know, I’m in total support of cloud technologies — technologies in which hardware is merely a portal to Internet-based programs. The pivotal point in cloud technologies is execution, and that’s where Chromebook is a fair bit underwhelming.
With much of the computing being left to the cloud, the hardware is less important than the connection users have to the Internet. In any case, I’ll still share you the hardware specs for context:
The CR-48 sports a 1.7ghz Atom processor, 2gb of 10600S DDR3 RAM with shared graphical memory and processing on the proprietary Tripod MARIO motherboard. Obviously, physical storage isn’t a focal point, but the laptop does have a 16 gig solid state harddrive. Along with that is USB and SD card support, as well as VGA output and an eighth-inch jack for stereo audio. While the netbook doesn’t feature wired Ethernet capability, it does utilize N wireless networking — the fastest and most load-bearing connection type over g and b.
It would seem that the Chromebook has its harddrive for flexibility, and that certainly speaks volumes about Google’s intentions with their netbook. The Chromebook is the stepping stone between what mobile computing is and what they want it to be. Honestly, it’s kind of an awkward place to be in. Google’s attempt at cloud computing seems a bit half-hearted, and it’s a long way from being a reasonable step forward, as opposed to a somewhat convenient alternative.
Chrome, as an operating system, is nearly identical to Chrome as a browser. Imagine having Chrome browser up, and not being able to minimize it or use your taskbar. Now, Chrome has a bit more functionality than that, but not too much more. Access to the “fileshelf” is like an extremely basic version of Explorer, and it enables file saving and utilizing of basic files: mp3s, pictures, limited video formats and other media. Navigation is simple enough, but organizing sub-paths and managing files is non-existent.
While media is accessible, the operating system is not as flexible as one would like with codec support — particularly videos. It’s frustrating that I can’t watch most video content, including files as common place as .avi. The Chromebook is not even capable of streaming Netflix, via the lack of Microsoft Silverlight support. It’s fantastic that it supports flash, which is more than the iPad can say for itself, but the functionality leaves a lot to be desired.
My big issue is that Google seems to understand that the cloud is the future, but they fail to see the difference between true cloud technology and Internet access. Many of the “applications” available are less than cleverly embedded URLs that link to services available to any computer with Internet access. Chromebooks, being priced equally to their netbook counterparts, have to be just as, if not more, functional than its competitors.
The applications that do seem unique and intriguing are largely offline apps, which defeats the purpose entirely. Just because being able to check my e-mail and Facebook is the thing on the forefront of my mind, it doesn’t mean the buck stops there. I still want to be able to edit photos in PhotoShop, I still want to be able to watch my non-streaming videos, I still want to be able to type up my reviews in Word, and I still want to be able to do some satisfying gaming.
The value in the cloud should be that my laptop is capable of robust experiences without expensive, vulnerable hardware. So far, this feels wholly unrealized. Instead, I have a laptop that does just as much as I’d expect it to do for its less than stellar hardware, if not less. I’d even go as far as to say that Chromebooks aren’t a true cloud experience but more so a gimped form of Linux in the form of an Internet browser.
Though, like I said, I do love this laptop. I love it more for its potential than its realized functionality. Even then, there are some things about the laptop right now that I love. I love that it starts up in less than 15 seconds, I love that it’s large enough to have a comfortable keyboard but small enough to feel extremely portable, and its battery life is a whopping 9-12 hours of use. I appreciate that it allows me to output the display (though not digitally), and I can use physical media like USB drives and memory cards if need be.
I also love how fast the operating system is. It doesn’t do much, but what it does do is fast. I can run through multiple tabs and windows and flawless speeds. To be fair, fullscreen Hulu and streamable HD videos are a bit choppy, but that’s largely due to the GPU being shared processing and memory. Everything else works swimmingly. If I wanted to, I can even allow myself to choose between stable builds, beta builds and developer builds — each mode having more flexibility and vulnerability than the next.
The great thing about Chromebooks is that because they’ve got the drive space to expand their platform, and their platform should be largely portal-based, is that Chromebooks can get better, while many laptops will be obsolete in due time. The inclusion of solid state harddrive and N wireless capabilities ensure that there is room to grow. Updates are extremely fast and non-disruptive.
Four years from now, many people will be tossing their computers away for more powerful, more expensive replacements. If Google does realize their potential with Chromebooks, users will be upgrading steadily along, and they may even be able to out-compute, out-store their less than forward-thinking brethren. Once Google Docs is a fully realized program for office use, Picasa is a robust editing software for graphic designers, and fileshelf is an intuitive design akin to if not better than Windows Explorer, Chromebooks will be worth every penny and some.
It’s worth a quick mention, though, that the other component to cloud computing is our Internet connections. Internet service providers — or ISPs — often cap our download speeds and don’t give us what we really pay for. Not only that, but server proximity can effect delay rates, commonly referred to as ping. It also makes some people uncomfortable to be so reliant on a constant Internet connection, but my argument to that is Chromebooks ability to connect to 3G (slower than cable or DSL connection) and the fact that Wi-Fi is easy enough to come by. Also, Internet downtime for many is no more or less common than hardware failure and viral attacks and over-burdening processes.
In any case, as it stands, Chromebooks are overpriced for their functionality, and I can’t really rate something on its potential but its value as a product. I think Google+ is a great sign that they’re really moving forward, but it’s going a bit slow for my tastes. As seen with OnLive, cloud technology isn’t something a lot of people are willing to embrace quite yet, but that’s only because of its underwhelming execution. I hope Google takes some more risks, because I truly believe that naysayers will be their strongest userbase soon enough. Until then, early adopters, be wary that your money spent now is much more of an investment than a purchase.
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