Google announced a new generation of Chrome OS–based laptops at the company’s I/O developer conference today. Called the ChromeBook, the new device and its interface are based entirely on Google’s Chrome operating system. In other words, most everything you do with a present laptop or desktop computer will be available on and through the web with the new ChromeBook systems. The 3-pound laptop compuers do not run Windows or Macintosh or Linux operating systems. Instead, they run Chrome, the new operating system from Google.
Samsung’s model is a bit bigger at 3¼ pounds and has a slightly larger screen as well: 12.1-inches. It uses the same Intel Atom dual-core processor, and have the same USB and SD card slots that the Acer model. It will have a battery life of 8.5 hours. Samsung’s model will start at $430 for Wi-Fi, and $500 for a 3G version.
The big attractions are instant-on, infinite storage capabilities, no need to purchase software, and ease of use. When powered up, the laptops should be ready for use wthin a second or two. There will be no need to wait for a boot-up process.
Need a web browser? The laptop will ship with the Google Chrome browser. Need a word processor? The laptop connects to Google Apps. Need a spreadsheet program? The laptop will again connect to Google Apps. Almost all the apps for Google Chrome are available free of charge. The expectation is that no applications will be installed on the computer. Instead, the new laptop systems will connect to the Internet from almost everywhere and will run applications that are stored on the Web.
While I am moving my personal storage and most of my applications "to the cloud," I expect Google will have a difficult time convincing customers to switch to the new ChromeBook. While cloud-based applications may be technically superior, the prices of the new Google ChromeBooks are roughly the same or even a bit higher than today's Netbook portable computers that run Windows. To be sure, the Windows netbook systems run a stripped down version of Windows and are limited by Microsoft's contract to smaller screens. Users also pay a "Microsoft tax" because the netbook manufacturers must pay a licensing fee to Microsoft. Of course, those fees are passed on the the consumer in the form of higher purchase prices, typically $40 or more extra just for the Microsoft license alone. Even with these constraints, netbooks running Windows typically cost $250 to $400.
In contrast, the Google ChromeBooks will have larger screens, bigger keyboards, faster operation, and no licensing fees need to be paid. ChromeBooks will be impervious to viruses when launched although I suspect that the miscreants who write viruses will soon change that.
In contrast, the new ChromeBooks will not have many applications just yet while the Windows netbooks can run most any existing Windows program. The ChromeBook does not have any genealogy applications available for installation on the local hard drive although they should be able to connect online and run the online genealogy programs, such as The Next Generation (TNG), PhpGedView, FamilyTreeExplorer (formerly known as PedigreeSoft), New FamilySearch, WeRelate.org, and other web-based genealogy programs. Even better, two or more people may access the same online genealogy program at the same time and even update records at the same time. These programs are available today and are being updated frequently. They should work well on the new ChromeBooks although I haven't had a chance yet to verify compatibility.
The downside is that ChromeBook prices will vary from $350 to $500, as much as a Windows netbook or even more, and will run fewer programs. I suspect the prices will drop within a few months but they still look to me like a major stumbling block. Why buy ChromeBook when you can purchase a more powerful Windows-based computer with more capabilities for less money?
Actually, I believe the ChromeBook or some similar devices will replace the public's computers within a few years but that won't happen this year. It may not happen for 2 years or 5 years or even longer. However, it will happen some day. Google's ChromeBook will be the first of the web-only laptops but certainly will not be the last. Like version 1.0 of most every other new product or service ever introduced, it won't be perfect. There will be bugs and design shortcomings alike. However, as the bugs are squashed and the designs are improved, each new version will be better and better than the previous version. I am looking forward to ChromeBook version 3.0.
The Chromebook (version 1.0) will be available to the public through Amazon.com and BestBuy.com beginning June 15 for U.S. customers. It will also be available in a small number of other countries: Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
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