Today, something that doesn’t usually happen to me, happened: I broke an electronic. More specifically, my Chromebook fell from a high surface and the screen was damaged beyond repair. So I thought that, as I say farewell to this great piece for hardware, I would publish the reasons why I think the it is awesome.
I think the Chromebook is the best thing that happened to laptops since… laptops. Of course, it’s a subjective view, but I have my arguments. But these devices were a big step forward because they cause a shift in the way we see a laptop.
As you might know, the Chromebook is Google‘s take on a laptop. It’s defined as a laptop made for running ChromeOS, an operating system developed by Google, on top of the open source ChromiumOS project. This is an operating system based on Linux (so it’s a Linux distribution) that basically runs one application: the Chrome (Chromium) web browser. So all you can do with it is browse the web.
Why would you need such a thing? Why you pay money for such a thing when you can have a normal Windows/MacOS/Linux laptop that runs anything AND a web browser? Well, first of all because it’s cheaper that an normal laptop. The hardware is pretty basic and since there are not Operating System licence fees attached to it it makes them the cheapest laptops out there.
Yes, but you still can ONLY browse the Internet. Think about it. How much time on your computer is spent doing just that? Reading your mail on GMail or Yahoo, interacting with people on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, G+ or Reddit, watching a video on YouTube or Vimeo, learning about new things on Wikipedia or reading blogs and other news sites. Google, as well as some others (like Mozilla) noticed how people are shifting from local applications to web based applications. And Chromebook is a device made specificity for those who spent 90% of their time within a browser.
If that isn’t enough, you have Chrome addons. I am not a big fan of browser addons but tons are available. For example, you have a SSH client or an IRC client or even a console written in the native client (NaCl).
Now, I am not saying that this is something for everyone. Far from it. First of all gamers. This would be useless to gamers as a main device. But they usually have a high-end desktop and for that. And those that do that, would also need a mobile device and, as a secondary device, a tablet or a Chromebook is what they need. Chromebooks are also not useful as a workstation for employees that need specific tools in their OS (like programmers). Though some web-programmers might find them even better than normal laptops. Also, Google, that has one of the world’s largest programmer army, uses Chromebooks internally so maybe even they can find the perks in one. And there is another group that might not appreciate them: people that don’t like Google (because this is as a “Google product” as it gets).
But I think that there is a huge market for these devices: non-technical people that need something simple, that just works. Think of how many times a friend or a relative of yours that wasn’t good with computers asked you do reinstall Windows on their computer, or that asked you do get rid of a virus they had or just to fix something in their operating system. For more than 20 years, computers have been moving out of the hands of IT professionals into the hands of normal users that don’t fully understand how computer and operating systems work. And what they need is a device that can do what they need them to do and it’s as simple as possible to work with. Apple gained a large market promoting the “it just works” feature compared to Microsoft’s buggy Windows. Google went a step further making an OS that is really REALLY hard to break.
Did I mention the extra fast bootup time and the very large battery lifetime?
Moving on with the laptop paradigm change, another feature that Chromebooks have is inherited from Android. The reason I like Android so much is that I am not tied to the physical device. I have a Google account where everything I need is attached and synchronized. If my phone brakes or it gets stolen (as it happened with my previous phone), I buy another, login with my account and I get every back as if I had that phone forever. This is a feature that wasn’t imagined 10 years ago but now is pretty standard and I think it’s something amazing.
And if this is not enough, here is what I think it’s the best feature and the best potential user market: the security needed for enterprise. If you start thinking from the IT department’s point of view, this is a gold mine. And many companies, not just IT companies have IT departments. And, with Chromebooks, they don’t need to do hardware benchmarks for employee equipment anymore, they don’t have to prepare a special OS image for the employee, they don’t need to keep it up to date and virus free, they don’t need to track and manage software licences, they don’t need to worry if the laptop gets stolen. It’s the IT guy’s dream for the company.
And security wise, ChromeOS builds on top of Chrome’s security thanks to the easy update system. No WindowsXP end-of-life problems with a Chromebook. And just because the systems is so simple (relatively speaking) and you don’t have access (or need it, for that matter) to admin privileges, a lot of system security holes are filled from the start.
I must confess that I might not be in the main category of Chromebook users (because I do many non-standard things on a computer). But I would buy my parents one. I received one from Google because I was a Google Student Ambassador in EMEA. And what kind of Google representative would I have been without a Chromebook. I was the proud owner of a Samsung Series 5 (ironically code name “Alex”). This was the first publicly available Chromebook after the CR-48 prototype. I got my Chromebook in September 2011 (so I think I was one of the first owners in Europe) and it still worked perfectly, receiving updates 1-2 times a week, until this morning.
Good bye, you have served me well!