Google’s new Chromebooks – netbook-style laptops based on its Chrome operating system – will go on sale soon. The idea of an online-only netbook is a great idea, but has it all come a bit too soon?
Google’s ambition knows no bounds.
It has conquered search engines, made billions from online advertising, taken mobile phones by storm with Android, and now it’s taking on Microsoft with its Chrome OS and Chromebooks. Could Google possibly succeed again?
What is a Chromebook?
In essence Chromebooks are netbooks. They use similar hardware, and they’ll be affordable at £350, albeit not as cheap as many netbooks. However, instead of Windows or similar traditional operating systems (e.g. Linux), Chromebooks will come with Google’s Chrome OS.
As this video explains, Chrome OS is a browser-based ‘stateless’ operating system. You can’t install traditional applications, instead you use ‘web apps’ from the Chrome Web Store – yes, there’s Angry Birds. Plus, your files aren’t stored on your netbook, but online in ‘The Cloud’.
This might sound daunting and complicated, but this addresses many of the issues I have with netbooks. Thanks to clever coding and the lack of applications to load, Chromebooks will boot in around 8 seconds – most netbooks take 60 to 90 seconds, sometimes longer. Google says you don’t need antivirus, either – a massive drain on netbooks.
You’ll be surprised by the amount you can do with Web Apps, too. You can create documents, tweak images, edit video, and plenty more besides using just a web browser. You can even listen to large libraries of music online. I do most of these things everyday, albeit using the Google Chrome browser on my Windows PC
In principal, then, I love the inherent simplicity and innovation of Chromebooks. But it’s a concept with numerous pitfalls to navigate.
Too much, too soon?
Pitfall number 1? Security. Google makes much of Chrome OS’s security credentials, particularly the lack of antivirus. Good news yes, but Chrome OS has a single point of failure: your log-in details. Get that and a hacker has access to everything: email, documents, passwords, perhaps even payment accounts if you use Google Checkout. As a security expert at Kaspersky said recently: ‘It’s better, but much worse’.
Another problem is compatibility. For instance, while Google Docs and similar online apps can open Word documents and the like, they don’t always work without errors. Microsoft’s own web apps, meanwhile, are rather limited in scope, making them a poor alternative.
Then there’s the simple issue of accessing your files. Imagine sitting at home and finding your internet is down, or your router has given up. Besides switching to a more reliable provider, you’re stuck at home with a computer and no access to your files. Ho hum.
The price isn’t right
Mainly, though, it’s a cost problem. The cheapest Chromebooks seem likely to sell for £350. That’s too expensive – £300 is the tipping point for a product that, like a netbook, has substantial limitations.
Therefore, while I look forward to trying a Chromebook when they go on sale in June, Google has a lot to prove before its radical ideas are accepted.