Chromebooks – What are they and Why do I Care?

clear-cloud-computing-diagramCloud Services is the Old Mainframe Model of Computing

Which brings me to my next point – Chromebooks were meant for cloud computing. While many confuse cloud computing to be only or just storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox and iCloud, cloud computing and their associated services are really much more than that. They are in many ways a return to the computing model of the late 1960’s and 1970’s.

While the idea for everything may have been brought back into focus with cloud-based storage apps and services such as Dropbox and the like, Google’s idea of pushing everything, even the actual, physical computing to servers and services to and in the Cloud, is a total return to the mainframe environments that many government agencies and older, private organizations still (in some states and cases, respectively) make use of today. In many ways, dumb terminal/mainframe computing is easier to use, easier to maintain, easier to program for and is much more reliable. If there’s a processing problem you have two points of possible failure – the pipe or the mainframe.

If you’re having communication issues, then there’s likely a network issue that needs to be resolved. You either have problems between the origin (the mainframe) or the destination (the Chromebook) and can check networking components in each. If the communication problem isn’t there, then it’s in the pipe.

If it’s a processing issue, then the issue isn’t on the client side. It’s on the mainframe side (unless the Chromebook is simply broken, and that’s easy to troubleshoot); and everything you need access to in order to fix it is on the mainframe side. Storage, processing power, memory… it’s all on the mainframe, or in the modern sense of this in the Chromebook/ Cloud computing model, on the Google end of the world.

In the PC based world, you have more local processing going on, and while that may reduce the amount of heavy lifting that a remote host (or mainframe) has to do, it increases the complexity of the topology and isn’t as easy to support. I don’t think anyone here doubts how difficult a BSoD issue may be to resolve. In many cases, it’s easier to back up your data, blow your PC and reinstall Windows and all your applications from scratch. In the mainframe or Cloud based computing model, you don’t’ have to do that. Everything is in the cloud and the problem is (likely) Google’s to resolve.

 

(Ubiquitous, High-Speed) Internet is Required

Cloud computing relies on access TO the cloud in order to work. Many Chromebooks only have 32GB of local storage, and that’s not a lot. Because all applications are also cloud-based, if you want to do anything with your Chromebook, you need access to the services that drive them. Needless to say if you don’t have a deep, wide pipe, using a Chromebook isn’t a real possibility.

For you to make the best of the device, access to that deep, wide pipe needs to be everywhere you are likely to use the device. So, [nearly] always available, high-speed internet access is a requirement for using a Chromebook. This is the biggest problem with the devices.

Internet access is not ubiquitous here in the States and not all of it is fast enough to provide the level of service needed to make working with one pain-free. Mobile access in some areas isn’t available at all; so unless you’re at a Starbucks or other public access point, using a Chromebook anywhere other than in your home may also be challenging.

broadband

In the new city I’m living in, this is a very, real problem. The first 6 weeks I was here, I had a great deal of trouble finding broadband that was providing speeds faster than 2-5Mbps down and 0.1Mbps up. In many cases, LTE service on my phone was faster than any of the Wi-Fi service I could find and/or access. That doesn’t make productive computing likely when you’re sharing a data plan with 2-3 other people. What you need is something that provides consistent service in the 20-30Mbps down, 10-15Mbps up range.

Chromebooks will of course work with mobile broadband, but when that’s your only type of access, a Chromebook isn’t the best type of computing choice. Chromebooks require internet access to do anything and everything; and you’re going to burn through your available bandwidth quickly if you don’t watch it.

 

Conclusion

My trip down the Chromebook pathway this week was kicked off by news that the Chromebook 11 was pulled from shelves and the web due to overheating of its power supply. If there’s one thing that a dumb terminal shouldn’t do is have its power supply overheat.

My son-in-law is a college student and was in need of a decent computer to help him with his school work. My daughter decided to buy him a computer for his birthday. While looking for affordable options, one or two Chromebooks were considered because of their low price points.

We looked long and hard at them; but they were quickly put aside.

While the prices were right, the required connectivity won’t always be available. Being tied to the cloud means that you’re stuck for a solution when the cloud “evaporates,” and isn’t available.

Price wise, if you are looking for a portable computer that gives you the ability to check mail, surf the web and do basic document editing, but yet still offers a traditional hardware experience (as opposed to a tablet), a Chromebook may be what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a powerful, offline computing experience, a Chromebook isn’t for you. While the price point is really a Chromebook’s most attractive feature in my opinion, until there’s ubiquitous, high speed internet consistently available to users nearly everywhere they want or need to be, a Chromebook’s real value is dubious at best.

 

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