Chromebooks – What are they and Why do I Care?

What’s a Chromebook with enhanced offline capabilities..?

A notebook with a stripped-down desktop OS (or, “three Chromebooks walk into a bar…”)

 

Introduction

See… I blame the whole netbook era for this.

A few years ago, just before tablets hit the market and the iPad took the computing world by storm, netbooks were all the rage. They were really a full blown notebook computer with either a “starter” version of Windows or Linux or a hacked version of the full OS; but had budget processing power and RAM. In many ways, they were a hackers dream, as with the right tools, talent or instructions, getting unusual Linux or Unix builds or even OS X on one was fairly easy, requiring only the right OS build and a USB flash drive or CD drive. Back in the day, I had a number of articles published on Gear Diary on how to create a Hackintosh with an MSI Wind.

Netbooks were replaced by tablets; and then the whole rooting your Android device-thing started. In many ways, rooting your Android device has also seen its day come and go, as more people are interested in a pure Android experience. Jail breaking or rooting your device has become very passé and honestly, I’m glad to see it go, too. I used to be very much into putting custom ROM’s on my phone(s), and that goes all the way back to the PocketPC and Windows Mobile days. While it was fun (at times), it’s a great deal of work and the results you get aren’t always worth the effort, especially when you can now cycle devices in and out every 12 or so months.

What does this have to do with Chromebooks? That’s a great question… The way things have been going, I see the implementation of Chromebooks in a similar light – a relic of the pre-tablet age where an open-source undercurrent was trying to redirect the interests of the industry and mainstream computing. Cloud computing has its place, but I don’t see it as the savior that Google and others would want YOU to think it is.

Chromebooks are completely dependent upon a few key items in order to function correctly. Over the next few days, we’ll discuss them all and see if we can figure it all out.

Chromebooks

 

Google Services and Little Else

Let’s get this out there right now – unless you’re already in bed with Google, you’d better plan to be if you purchase a Chromebook. The device may not work properly with other cloud-based storage or office suite services, and then you’d be stuck. Buying a Chromebook means buying into Google. Period.

 

A Chromebook is (little more than) a Dumb Terminal

The current computing model is completely based on the Intel x86/x64 architecture and the client/server model of computing. Over the past 20 or so years, you’ve seen Moore’s Law prove itself and then be recast as the number of transistors that we can currently put on a silicon wafer sort of went from 2300 back in the day to more than 2.3M. The point I’m making is that the current computing paradigm has all of the processing power for your computer actually ON your computer.

It’s got a beefy processor with (increasingly sophisticated) power management capabilities. It has a boat load of RAM and as much spinning or flash storage as you can cram into it without blowing the price out of proportion. It (usually now-a-days) has an HD display as both HD capable desktop monitors and notebook screens are coming down in price.

Software ecosystems, even for traditional desktop/laptop computing, provide easy access to all of the tools you need to get your computing tasks done. Everything you need is on the computing device…except on a Chromebook.

Chromes doesn’t have a lot of local processing power built into it. It’s really a desktop version of the Chrome Browser for PC/Mac/Linux shoved inside a plastic and metal case. Most of the apps and computing that you do on it must be run within that browser wrapper. Things like Google Docs, Gmail, Google Photos, work well, and are really all you get. If it runs inside a browser window on your PC and if most of the heavy lifting the app needs are done by the web site/service, then you’re likely going to have a good chance of it running well on a Chromebook… especially if it’s a Google service. The local device can do some crunching and processing, but the device and service are designed to push most of the processing needs on the web server and service. “Regular” applications won’t run, however; so don’t look for that kind of experience from a Chromebook.

While this hardware and software configuration insures that the device itself can be relatively inexpensive (many Chromebooks are priced between $199 and $299), it doesn’t explain devices like the Chromebook Pixel, which sells for $1299. Most Chromebooks have budget processors – Intel Celerons, Samsung Exynos, etc. They’re not very powerful and really only provide basic computing services. The Pixel, however, is configured like a standard laptop, which doesn’t make much sense. It also has a touch screen, which either says they’re going to start doing some touch-centric related stuff with it and will also produce a tablet, or it could mean nothing at all. With Google… you never really know.

Chromebooks, though, are really designed to turn the lights on and just get you access to the internet. They don’t do any local bit crunching. What processing they do, is limited to local storage, file retrieval and internet service navigation and running of the “operating system.” As such, they’re really nothing more than a dumb terminal on wheels.

 

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  • Divyanshu

    Chromebooks are a waste ! Only a ‘fool’ would buy them !

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