I came home the other day to find a box on my doorstep. It was a pretty nondescript except for a UPS label so I had no idea where it came from or who sent it. I was pleasantly surprised to find a Google Chrome CR-48, the predecessor to the upcoming Chromebooks which are slated to be released in mid-June. I signed up back in December but never expected to get one but apparently Google has recently started sending them out to according to news reports. Anyway, here are my initial thoughts from playing around with the device for the past couple days.
Keeping in mind that it’s only for beta testing, I didn’t expect much around the form factor and build quality of the… let’s call it a Chromebook. I use a MacBook Pro regularly which sets a pretty high standard around build quality. The Chromebook does take a lot of design stylings from the MacBook surprisingly. The chiclet keyboard, the size, trackpad (though usability isn’t even close). Entirely black, the case has a rubberized feel to it and doesn’t feel very sturdy, but again, it is a beta test unit. There are a minimal number of ports… VGA out, USB, headphone jack, and a SD card slot. Supposedly it has bluetooth, GPS, and support for Verizon but I haven’t gotten around to testing those features yet. The full hardware specs can be found here.
So the main reason Google has been distributing these Chromebooks is to have users test Chrome OS. Ubiquitous wireless access, cheaper manufacturing costs, and most importantly the transition of traditional native applications to web-based applications that provide equal functionality has lead Google to believe that the traditional Operating System (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, etc…) can be replaced with just a browser. Chrome OS is essentially a Linux variant that boots directly into the Google Chrome browser. Chrome has gained significant mainstream adoption in the past couple years and provides Google a stepping stone to increased adoption of the Chromebooks once they’re released in June. So essentially if you use Chrome today, the transition to using a Chromebook is seamless. And if you spend a considerable amount of time using Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar… you don’t really notice that the OS is missing. Boot time is fast and switching between users is quick and easy. With the Google Web Store finding and adding apps to your home tab gives you easy one-click access to your everyday apps.
While I spend a considerable amount of time using web applications today, my work requires me to use desktop applications to do software design and development. I haven’t found any web based application that can replace the ease and efficiency of their desktop counterparts so shifting my day-to-day use to just a Chromebook is not an option for me.
For a standard user, one that just reads e-mails, writes documents, and browses the web, the Chromebook should be an easy transition. Mainstream adoption will take some time though as people get used to the paradigm shift of moving their data into the cloud and learning how to navigate new apps.
What should be interesting in the next year is the response from competition. From Apple, it should be interesting to see what comes after iOS 5.0 and Mac OS X Lion. Supposedly the two operating systems are on a collision course. Throw in what people are speculating about the Apple iCloud and 2012 could be an innovative year for Apple. Microsoft on the other hand really needs to figure things out. If Google is successful with Chrome OS, it’ll greatly accelerate the decline of WIndows in the consumer marketplace even further. Microsoft has been touting Azure and the recently released Office 365 but I personally don’t know anyone that uses or raves about any of the Microsoft web applications.
Anyways, look for the new Chromebooks June 15th from Acer and Samsung. I think the Samsung version looks to be the better version of the two. It’s a little heaver but it has a longer battery life and a larger screen though the price may be higher from what I’ve heard.