Would you like to purchase a new laptop computer for yourself, a child, a grandchild, or for an adult with limited or no computer experience? Does it need to have a full-sized screen and a decent keyboard? Do you want to do word processing, spreadsheets, read and write email, surf the web, access Facebook and Twitter, access online banking applications, and also play lots of games? Would you like a computer that never gets viruses, doesn’t need backups, and is simple to operate? Do you also have a broadband Internet connection available? Would you like to pay $200 to perhaps $250 for this laptop? If so, I have a suggestion for you.
A Chromebook is a low-cost laptop computer that does not run Windows, does not run Macintosh, and doesn’t even run Linux. Instead, a Chromebook runs the Chrome operating system, a competitor to the other operating systems. The Chrome operating system was developed by Google. Chromebooks usually sell for bargain basement prices: $200 to $250. However, you might see a few at higher prices, typically offering bigger display screens, cell phone wireless network connections, or larger disk drives.
Chromebooks now dominate laptop sales. Retail giant Amazon includes several Chromebooks in its list of the best selling laptop computers sold by that company. You can find that list at http://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Computers-Accessories-Laptop/zgbs/pc/565108. The list is updated hourly. When writing this article, I found the $199 Acer C720 Chromebook listed as the second best selling laptop in Amazon’s inventory.
The Chrome operating system uses a minimalist user interface. That is, the user interface is as simple to use as Google can make it. The user interface centers around the Google Chrome web browser. This is a good choice as the operating system is aimed at users who spend most of their computer time on the Web.
For most activities, the Chromebook uses the Internet connection to access online applications. Data is stored in and retrieved from the cloud-based services. Don’t let the word “cloud” confuse you. In this case, the word “cloud” is the same as saying “online in the Internet.” Available applications include Google Drive, Gmail, Google Docs (for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations), Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, YouTube, Netflix for movies, Hulu, SoundCloud (for music), Mint (for financial management), Google Hangouts, and hundreds of games. Yes, even Angry Birds is available for the Chrome operating system. There are tens of thousands of apps available through the Chrome Web Store at https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/apps, which you can choose much like apps for tablets and smartphones. If you have documents, spreadsheets, presentations, or other files that were created with another computer you can import these files directly into Google Drive or another online service, allowing you to work on your files with your Chromebook. The Chrome operating system also works well with almost all online banking applications.
Business users also find Chromebooks to be excellent, low-cost computers for remote workers. Business applications include Wave (a competitor to QuickBooks), Schedule Once (a meeting scheduling program), several CRM applications to choose from, Brightpearl (to manage customers, sales, inventory, suppliers, quotes and orders, and purchasing), CloudIDE (a highly-rated integrated development environment (IDE) for programmers), Huddle (a project management suite of programs), and many more.
Almost all Chromebook applications aimed at consumers are available free of charge. Some of the programs designed for business use charge modest fees. Almost all of the fee-based applications are lower-priced than their Windows or Macintosh competitors.
The only applications that come installed in the Chromebook are a browser, media player, and file manager. Almost all the other Chrome applications that you might care to use operate within the Chrome browser. You access these other programs by connecting to the web site operated by each program’s developers. Chrome programs normally operate directly online and do not need to be installed within the Chromebook.
Note: A few programmers have developed other applications that can be installed within the Chrome operating system and add features that do not require an Internet connection. Most Chromebook users will not care about these, but a few more technical users may choose to look more closely at these. I suspect most Chromebook users will ignore these few internally-installed programs.
The Chrome operating system works both offline and online; you can watch local video files, listen to music, access files, and more on a Chromebook that is not connected to the net. In addition, many programs are designed to work both online and offline, including Google Docs, Gmail, Pocket, Angry Birds and Kindle.
Clearly, the Google Chrome operating system is far more than just a hobbled Web-based operating system. The big advantages of Chromebooks are:
1. Low price, typically $200 to $250 with a few laptops containing extra features available at higher prices. The $329 Hewlett-Packard Pavilion 14 Chromebook is probably the top-of-the-line for most consumers with a 14-inch display and great speakers. Samsung also sells even higher-priced Chromebooks that include a wireless modem that connects to long-range cell phone towers. (All Chromebooks include wi-fi capability that connects to short-range routers in homes, coffee shops, airports, and thousands of other locations. Adding a cell-phone modem allows data connections to cell towers located much further away. However, the cell phone companies charge rather high prices for cell tower data connections. Most Chromebook users will prefer to only use wi-fi connections.)
2. No viruses. The Chrome operating system is resistant to most forms of malware (malevolent software), and reportedly no Chromebook has ever been known to be infected with a virus. In fact, you cannot purchase anti-virus software for Chromebooks as there is no need for such a program. The Chrome operating system provides a high level of security. The operating system is automatically updated, so security fixes are automatically installed. Chrome treats each tab in the browser as a “sandbox,” so if malware is encountered, it can’t leave to infect other computers. And, each time the system starts, it does a self-check and makes any necessary repairs.
3. Fast boot time. Most Chromebooks are ready for use about seven or eight seconds after the power-on button is pushed.
4. Little need for backup software. Most Chromebook applications store their data online, so there is no requirement to store anything contained in the local hard drive. All cloud-based services provide their own backups, offering high reliability for your data. Of course, it is still a good idea to save ADDITIONAL copies of your important data on Google Drive, Dropbox, or other online file storage services. That’s true for any computer, not just Chromebooks.
Of course, any computer will also have disadvantages. With a Chromebook, you will discover:
1. Many of the available applications require a working Internet connection for use. Of course, the same is true for the same applications when run on Windows or Macintosh computers and tablets.
2. Not all printers work with a Chromebook although many do. You cannot simply plug a printer into a printer port on a Chromebook; you will need to print through a network or Internet connection. If your printer can do that, the process is simple to set up and use. However, if your present printer is not compatible, you may need a cloud-ready printer. Most newer printers from Canon, Dell, Epson, HP, Kodak, and Samsung will work. A list of cloud-ready printers may be found at http://www.google.com/cloudprint/learn/printers.html.
Note: You can also print directly to printers at a local FedEx Office store although I doubt if many people will want to do that for every-day use.
3. Most Chromebooks contain rather small disk drives. Sixteen gigabytes is typical. Actually, Chromebook users soon find the size of the internal drive really isn’t important. After all, most data files are stored online in Google Drive, Dropbox, Zoho, Box, or any of a number of other cloud-based file storage services. Almost nothing is stored in the computer’s internal hard drive. Most Chromebook users never fill their 16-gigabyte hard drives.
4. For a genealogist, a major disadvantage of a Chromebook is the lack of a good genealogy program. A few, small genealogy utilities are available but nothing that approaches the capabilities of RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree, The Master Genealogist, Reunion, Heredis, MacFamilyTree, Ancestral Quest, GRAMPS, Family Tree Maker, or the other popular genealogy programs available today for Windows and Macintosh. However, when connected to the Internet, a Chromebook works well with most all the online genealogy applications, such as The Next Generation (TNG) and PhpGedView. It also works well with almost all the genealogy web sites, including FamilySearch, MyHeritage, WeRelate, Ancestry, Geni, WikiTree, and many, many more.
You can find all the available Chrome applications at https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/apps. I bet you will be surprised at the number of available applications.
While the Chrome operating system will only run Chrome programs, it is possible to use a Chromebook to access programs running on a remote Windows or Macintosh computer. The result is that you see the Windows or Mac program displayed in the Chromebook’s screen, and any keystrokes or mouse actions you make on the Chromebook are sent to the remote application. If you have a Windows or Macintosh computer at home, you can use this method to run Family Tree Maker, Reunion, RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree, AncestralQuest, and most any other program remotely. You might want to do that when using the Chromebook in a hotel room, at school, or from the living room couch. In fact, the program is actually running on the Windows or Macintosh computer in your home; you simply use the display screen, keyboard, and mouse (or trackpad) of your Chromebook for data input and output.
You can read more about one method of running Windows or Macintosh programs remotely at http://www.howtogeek.com/173353/how-to-run-windows-software-on-a-chromebook/. A simpler method is shown at http://goo.gl/aQlrRV. However, I find both methods to be a bit complex and too slow for my tastes. I prefer to run Chrome applications whenever possible.
The Chrome operating system is a competitor to Windows, Macintosh, Linux, and (to a lesser degree) to Android and Apple iOS. However, the Chrome operating system addresses a different market than do the others and therefore probably will never replace any other operating system. It may be thought of as a supplemental operating system.
Any experienced Windows or Macintosh user probably will not want to replace an existing computer with a Chromebook. Indeed, there’s nothing a Chromebook can do that a more general-purpose Windows or Macintosh laptop cannot do, except to meet the purchase price.
Chromebooks are very popular as low-priced second systems, especially as laptops for use when traveling. A low-cost Chromebook doesn’t have enough computing power to compete with Photoshop, ColdFusion, AutoDesk or other CAD/CAM programs, or other processing-intensive applications. However, many of today’s Windows and Macintosh applications are web-based, including Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Google Docs, SoundCloud, Mint, Google Hangouts, and games. Chromebooks are great for these popular applications. Some computer users may need “big iron” computing when at home or at the office, but they may also find that a low-priced Chromebook meets any computing needs they may have when traveling. In fact, Chromebooks are often referred to as “just like an iPad but with a real keyboard and a bigger screen.”
Chromebooks are also popular for use by computing non-experts. Senior citizens, pre-teens, and adults with little or no computer experience often find the Chromebook to be a better choice than either a Windows or Macintosh laptop. Your grandmother may be confused by Windows, but she probably will not have problems with Chrome’s simplicity. Parents often purchase Chromebooks and give them to their children for use with homework and for entertainment. Hundreds of educational programs are also available for Chromebooks, and most of these programs are free.
A Chromebook makes a great second computer. Most Windows and Macintosh users never “switch” to a Chromebook. Instead, they purchase a Chromebook as an additional device—not one that replaces their current computer entirely. The Chromebook typically is used when traveling or when sitting on the living room couch.
You can learn more about Chromebooks and the Chrome operating system at https://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/.
All in all, a Chromebook is not a perfect solution for everyone. However, tens of thousands of new and experienced computer users alike have found a Chromebook to be a useful tool for their needs. It might meet your needs as well. I purchased one of the first Chromebooks and still use it often. Newer models have since appeared that are lighter and faster, but I still cling to “old reliable.”
Chromebooks are available from all the “big box” computer stores. I purchased mine from Amazon. You can find many of them listed at http://goo.gl/p3xQ5W.