Let me set my stall out first. At home I use an iMac, and for work I use a Windows-based laptop (previous job and new job). I tried a few times to get into Linux, and while I quite liked the operating system itself, some key applications were either flaky or missing, and I always ended up back in Windows. As I’ve mentioned a few times, for a number of weeks I had possession of an iPad but barely used it. I heard from some people that they were taking an iPad with them on business appointments and leaving the laptop at home – even though I liked the idea, I don’t think there was ever an occasion where I could have done that.

In defence of the iPad, and of the Android tablets I’ve played with, there’s a lot of functionality and applications. Yes, they have their limitations, but they’re tablets – I don’t believe that they’re supposed to be personal computer / laptop replacements. Not yet anyway.

So here’s my issue… if you’re going to purchase something that has the form-factor of a laptop, why wouldn’t you buy a laptop that features a tried-and-trusted operating system with lots of available applications and that provides all of the support you need as a computer user (stuff like printing for example)? Or to turn the question around, why would you buy a Chromebook? If users are going to make that leap, there has to be something really compelling on offer.

A lower price maybe? Well, there’s a slew of cheap tablets on the market, but that hasn’t dented Apple’s dominance. But that’s an irrelevant fact – one of the first Chromebooks to enter the UK market (provided by Samsung) is expected to start at £349, and I could easily get a Windows 7-based laptop for that price (and cheaper).

A lightweight OS which boots up in seconds? Now this is attractive. However, Windows 7 and Mac OS X will come out of sleep mode in the same time, so unless the computer has been shut down this isn’t much of a compelling capability. One benefit of that lightweight OS, with it’s reduced CPU utilisation and hard disk access, will be realised in terms of battery life… and that’s important for the mobile user.

I think the major gotchas will be the following:

  • You have to be on-line – with almost no off-line capability I think Google are making a massive assumption about always-available Internet access
  • Printing – Google Cloud Print sounds like a major headache (but I’m willing to be told that it’s quick, easy and convenient)
  • Applications – I should say “lack of” applications, and therefore lack of access to their data… oh, I’m on an aeroplane but want to write a document / review a spreadsheet / create a presentation

If you’re someone who can afford to have a device for every occasion, then I can see a Chromebook nicely fitting into the scenario where you need long battery life, a simple speedy user interface based mainly around web access, and all of your data in the cloud without having to worry about managing the data locally (and where you’re permanently connected to the Internet). But most people need more than that, so a Chromebook couldn’t be their only option. Sorry Google, I don’t get it. And if I’m being a bit obtuse, let’s just say I don’t think I’ll ever fit into that category.

This article has 6 comments

  1. Carl Tyler Reply

    I think you’re right Darren. Laptop model doesn’t really make sense, desktop model probably makes more sense. I mean all it is is Network Computer 1999 all over again in 2011. There are some people this model will work for, but a higher percentage where it won’t.

  2. Flemming Riis Reply

    for my work i could stick with a terminal server connection for the majority of my work, but it would still take some homework so i could vpn from other TS sessions to customers.

    So going laptop less would be possible but it would cut down on my effective hours

  3. Darren Reply

    Palmi, that’s genius… iPad + Bluetooth keyboard = expensive laptop ;-)

    Carl and Flemming… you’re right, I guess it is rather like net stations / terminal sessions in a way. In which case maybe the right model is workstations for task-specific applications (say at banking or retail branches) rather than road warriors.

    I didn’t want to give the impression I was slapping Google down – where would we be without technology companies trying new things and innovating? I’m just not sure where this fits, and I’m pretty sure it’s not for me.

  4. Grant Reply

    Had a look at one and I was just thinking about whether it would be a better purchase for low level users around me.

    1 – My son just broke his netbook (running Linpus Lite), he only ever wants to play flash games or watch iPlayer and doesn’t yet need it for homework. I liked the simplicity of the netbook os if not the reliability.

    2 – My mum who doesn’t want a computer but doesn’t like going to the library to check email and would like to keep up with family around the world. Can’t see her coping with a pc and iPads are too expensive

    3 – Elderly relative in Australia who can’t get her new laptop to work (Win7) and is quite possibly the most IT-illiterate user I have come across. Wants to use it for writing letters as well as this new fangled social networking thingy. Has no access to IT support (other than me)

    Not saying a Chromebook is a solution for everyone, but I can see a need for something that is simpler than a PC, as long as the reliance on web access is not total.

  5. Darren Reply

    Hi Grant… regarding #3 on your list… writing letters, and can we therefore assume printing letters? I’d have to reserve judgement on the Cloud Print service, but surely Windows and the Mac have got really good at plugging and playing in recent releases. As long as you can find the right holes to match both ends of the USB cable it’s dead simple. However, interesting user scenarios and I don’t disagree with you… but are the users you describe enough to form a Chromebook market? Time will tell.

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