Chromebooks are the answer, but don’t ask too many questions. Four months ago I bought a Chromebook (Unwrapping My Chromebook). Despite the inevitable complaints I’m about to list, I’m convinced that Chromebooks are going to usurp the laptop the way the laptop usurped the PC the way the PC usurped the mainframe. Continue that regression if you wish, but the main trend is that a new technology that is dismissed may yet again dismiss its predecessors.
For those of you unaware of Chromebooks, don’t be surprised. They are largely being overlooked, and look so similar to laptops that they blend.
They are being overlooked for more than enough reasons.
- They do less.
- They’re dumber at what they do.
- They have less memory.
- The earliest ones aren’t even useful without wi-fi.
Why would a dumb, hampered, limited, and shackled computer be not only useful but actually disruptive?
- They are cheap.
- They are reliable.
- They are fast.
- Memory is as simple as adding a card or a disk.
- They’ve evolved to work even when they aren’t hooked up to the Internet.
Yet, I’ve yet to describe what a Chromebook is. A Chromebook is nothing more than the barest bones laptop, not much more than a keyboard, screen, and a few components that let the user type into and read from the Internet. They are such a simple idea that there’s no reason to make a fuss.
And here’s the fuss.
My Chromebook was an experiment enabled by a gift certificate at Christmas. My venerable MacBook
has been showing its age. A hinge is cracked. Some fasteners fell out; and stayed out because, as Apple certified products, they cost too much to put back in. The system is slowing as Apple’s operating systems upgrade and advance. Occasionally the logic board forgets a device or loses touch with a signal. My business is my computer, and I work almost every day so it works almost every day. We’re both tired.
With sufficient funds I might be tempted to buy another Apple, though I’ve think that fruit’s beginning to show some spots. Despite the defense of Mac-aholics, some of whom were probably born after I’d already bought my first, recent changes in Apple’s file management and reliance on iTunes and iStore and iProfits encouraged me to consider options. A computer is a tool, not a sacrosanct temple.
Without sufficient funds, the Apples were out of reach. The low-end PC laptops have always been cheaper, but even there I’d have to pay hundreds of dollars for software. IPads don’t do enough. And I don’t want to dive into the possibly steep learning curve and incompatibilities of a Linux boxes. Because Chromebooks do so little, they cost much less. The cheapest run for under $200. I bought a slightly nicer one for under $300. The high end ones cost as much as “normal” laptops, which must be an overlap, but I’ll leave that review to someone with more money.
Four months into using my Chromebook I must admit that it must be good enough. It doesn’t do everything, but there are days when my Mac sits with its lid shut.
Having a cheap laptop that has little memory, little software, few moving parts, and yet has all the basic elements of keyboard, screen, and battery means I am much more relaxed. There’s less of a reason for anyone to steal it. If they steal it, they don’t steal much and it will be easy to replace. Because it does so little, the battery lasts almost an entire workday. Fewer moving parts means it is quieter, cooler, and less likely to get damaged during a commute.
The reason a Chromebook works is because the Internet works, usually. As software, storage, and services move onto the Internet (aka as moving into “The Cloud”) there’s less for a local hard drive and software suite to do. Apple and Microsoft and every competent company are aware of the power of the cloud. Apple is trying to shove every user through iCloud the way they do with iTunes and iStore. I think Microsoft is doing the same, but evidently their marketing machine plows different fields than where I’m standing because I can’t recall the name of their initiative. Google is doing the same, but where Apple and Microsoft rely on expensive hardware and software, which also help protect high profit margins, Google has the incentive to do so with cheap hardware and minimal software which lure people to their services (and ad revenue or extra paid services).
This change may be no bigger than the change from mainframe to PC to laptop. Hey, wait. Those changes were fundamental to entire industries. I’ve yet to find a pure-play stock investment based on Chromebooks. GOOG has far too high of a market cap for my style. The majority of the Chromebooks are coming out of other large companies like HP (mine), ACER, Samsung, etc. There may be a career trend in coding for simple machines, harkening back to the original and necessarily minimalist programming mindset, relatively. The bigger change may be the simple opening of closed markets: buyers who couldn’t afford the expensive machines or were intimidated by the complexity of software keys and admin protocols.
Chromebooks proved themselves to me by working every day for four months with very few of the issues of conventional laptops.
Chromebooks are not without faults or flaws.
- Much of my work stretches back to old-line Microsoft and Apple programs (Word, Excel, iPhoto) that aren’t readily replicated on the Chromebook (regardless of claims of compatibility.)
- The Internet is not always available.
- Large tasks carried out via the web can have I/O traffic slowdowns.
- This Chromebook’s monitor is dull and insufficient for final photographic work.
- The off-line abilities of the Chromebook either fall short of my expectations or I haven’t learned how to properly use them even after four months of opportunities.
- Printing and scanning from my own equipment have required signing up for Terms and Conditions that are unnecessary.
- The apps are not mature, and are evolving, which is good eventually but bad in the midst of a project.
. . . and the list goes on as with any machine.
One problem that doesn’t fit into a nice bullet list is why I’ll write this draft on the Chromebook, finish it on the Mac, and then upload it from the Mac. Pulling in files, photos, and links from other sources sometimes brings up menus that don’t show what I know is there. In some cases on the Chromebook I have to find the file online, download it to an SD card in my Chromebook, and then upload it back to a Google directory – even when it started in a Google directory (oh, pardon me, a Google Drive because Google doesn’t use a strict directory format, or was I supposed to use Files, or was it Docs which all sound like the same thing.)
Many of Chromebooks’ flaws vanish for folks that use nothing else. Kids are starting out with Chromebooks, partly because they are something schools can afford. I’d recommend one to my Dad if he needed a new computer. There’s less need for Tech Support, and there’s a lot less cost.
Google started with a simple idea. Keep it simple. They’ve continued to do that with their search engine. They strayed when they launched Google+. They’ve returned to it with Chromebooks.
Each disruption has been dismissed for the very reason they were successful, they proved yet again that less is more. That’s something we need more of.
(And then, there’s something even simpler and more disruptive than Chromebooks, but it is so radical that it can sound like sci-fi. I’ll wait until it is closer before mentioning more.)