I recently wrote a post on ‘The Cloud’ and how it has revolutionised computing over the last 15 years – with that in mind, let’s take a look at Chromebook. We’ll start with the decent bits, and move on from there:

  • It boots in 8 seconds (apparently)
  • All the work you do on a Chromebook is uploaded to ‘The Cloud’
  • It has no desktop
  • Updates are automatic

It boots very quickly. This is desirable for ‘Cloud‘-based (I use quotes because ‘The Cloud’ is just ‘The Internet’ painted in a coat of marketing drizzle) computing because you want to get online as soon as possible. The problem with essentially ‘Cloud’-only computing is the requirement of the availability of ‘The Cloud’ – a requirement certainly not guaranteed. Nevertheless, ‘The Cloud’ serves as one of the most accessible platforms on the planet, so you won’t need to worry about backups or your work getting accidentally deleted, or your Chromebook getting stolen, because your work will be saved in ‘The Cloud’.

Having no ‘desktop’ (I use quotes because I’m also referring to general-purpose applications) is both advantageous, and bloody stupid at the same time. It’s good because it allows the box to boot up very quickly, and minimizes clutter and the degree of customisation (dodgy downloads anyone?) capable by the user. It’s a bloody stupid idea because it minimizes the degree of customisation capable by the user, and makes the box a lot less useful when access to ‘The Cloud’ is simply not possible.

The automatic, behind the scenes updating feature is a nice one because it makes the Operating System (contrary to the advert, it is a computer and it does have programs) a lot less noticeable to the user. Google have really homed in on the idea of providing just a portal to the Internet, and nothing more, and I like that. The portal they provide is not invasive or really visible to the user at all. The 8 second boot up time is really an attribute to this way of thinking.

Now let’s focus on the not so good stuff:

  • All the work you do on a Chromebook is uploaded to ‘The Cloud’
  • It has no desktop
  • Updates are automatic
  • It has a very limited set of local programs
  • Depending on the model, you’ll pay anything from $349 – $499
  • The hardware specifications are not worth the price

May I just mention the Playstation Network at this point in my post when I say that even ‘trusted’ entities, such as Sony, can fuck it up big time. When you save your work onto ‘The Cloud’, you’re saving your work onto remote hard disks which belong to other organisations. You are placing your trust on the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of your data in the hands of another party. In many cases, the work you save will be duplicated over many hard disks, over many geographically distant locations, to provide you with the availability you need should a portion of their ‘Cloud’ fall over (Amazon EC2 anyone?). Although convenient, and (usually) accessible, you do take a risk or two in realising this convenience, and these risks are out of your control.

The limited local capabilities of Chromebook is really it’s Achilles heel for me. When you don’t have access to the Internet, how many more things can you do on your desktop or laptop than on your Chromebook? Considering the price, you would expect not too many more things, but I (and the Reddit community) have doubts. Part of the portal philosophy would be to have as fewer programs locally accessible as possible, which, considering the price, I’m not too impressed with.

Would I buy a Chromebook? No. The whole concept of ‘Cloud Computing’ being the natural progression in the industry is contrasting, and arguably a step backwards in time (dumb terminals anyone?). On paper, ‘Cloud Computing’ and remote storage sound like a good idea, and have saved businesses a hell of a lot of money. In practice? Local availability will always trump remote availability, and I like the idea of owning my own hardware to carry out tasks I will it too. Entrusting all my data, and surrendering my computing power to some organisation sounds rather restrictive and narrow-minded to me. I think I’ll hold onto my rig a little longer (even if it is only a craptop).


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