A new computer revolution may be upon us. To be sure, I don't know if this revolution is going to change our computing habits or if it will fizzle out. Either way, I plan to find out. I ordered one today.
ChromeBooks are low-powered (and cheap) laptop computers built and optimized for the web, where you already spend most of your computing time. With a ChromeBook, you get a faster, simpler and a more secure computing experience without all the headaches of ordinary computers.
ChromeBooks also might be called "cloud computers." They have very low-powered processors, very little memory, and tiny disk drives. That doesn't sound very attractive until you realize they are designed to always be connected to the Internet. A ChromeBook boots up in eight seconds or less. That's fast! As the ChromeBook boots up, it quickly connects to your favorite wireless network so you're on the web right from the start.
Of course, the purchase price of $350 to $500 is also very appealing for a computer with infinite storage capacity and hundreds of applications available.
ChromeBooks run the Chrome operating system, not Windows and not Macintosh. That doesn't make much difference, as you don't install programs onto a ChromeBook, in any case. Instead, you run applications that are on the web, such as Google Docs or Gmail or HotMail or Geni or Angry Birds. In theory, there's no need to install programs.
One version of the ChromeBook only includes wi-fi wireless networking and will only work if you are at home, within range of your own wi-fi network, or in a coffee shop, airport terminal, commuter bus, or anyplace else that offers wi-fi connectivity. You can also always tether to your smartphone. The more expensive ChromeBook computers offer both wi-fi wireless networking and 3G wireless networking that connects to the nearest Verizon cell phone tower, thereby offering much greater coverage. Verizon is offering up to 100 megabytes per month of mobile data (a modest amount) free of charge. That should be sufficient to check your email frequently and for a few days of casual surfing the web. You won't watch many videos on 100 megabytes, however. You can also purchase more data usage on a day-by-day basis without committing to any expensive, long-term contracts. For anyone who plans to use a lot of wireless data, you can get 1 gigabyte of data for $20.00/month, 3 gigabytes of data for $35.00/month, and 5 gigabytes of data for $50.00/month.
With a 3G wireless connection, you should be able to connect to the Internet and use the ChromeBook from almost anyplace except for rural areas, from a cruise ship in mid-ocean, or from an airplane in mid-air. Even then, many of today's cruise ships and airlines offer wi-fi networking although at rather high prices.
One of the big advantages of always being connected is that your apps, documents, and settings are stored safely in the cloud. So, even if you lose your computer, you can just log in to another ChromeBook and get right back to work. In fact, you should be able to do the same from a desktop computer at home, from a normal laptop computer, at a friend's house, or in an Internet cafe.
Just because you only run applications from the web does not mean you are restricted to only a few programs. In fact, there are hundreds of available programs. Many are free although some do cost money. The Chrome Web Store already offers many word processors, diaries, blogging programs, music players, cookbook programs, spreadsheet programs, online radio stations, video (such as YouTube), games, children's programs, online shopping, news, weather, sports, financial services, and much, much more. You can view all the Chrome web apps at https://chrome.google.com/webstore
If you installed all these programs on a normal computer, you would need hundreds of gigabytes in disk storage. However, with a ChromeBook, storage space is never an issue. In effect, you have unlimited storage space. The only difference is that the storage is in the cloud, not on a local hard drive.
If you lose your ChromeBook, or if you drop it, or it gets stolen, you don't have to worry about your data. Very little data is stored locally on the machine--everything is kept in the cloud.
While the Chrome Web Store is still in its infancy, it already offers two genealogy programs: a free program that stores and retrieves your genealogy information from the popular Geni online service and a free "Ancestry Family Search Extension" that accesses data on both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. I suspect many more genealogy apps will appear if these things become popular.
Initially, ChromeBooks will not be susceptible to viruses and other malware. That may change someday if these become popular. However, the Chrome operating system is based on Linux, a system that doesn't get viruses, so the ChromeBooks will probably always be less virus-prone than some other operating systems.
ChromeBooks will be either faster or slower than other computers, depending upon your viewpoint. They will have slower processors and less memory, so you might think they will be slow. Indeed, I think so. However, with the fast boot-up time and the solid-state disk drive, you should be able to boot up, write a one-sentence email message, send it, and then power off, all within 30 seconds or so. Try doing that with a regular laptop computer!
So, is the ChromeBook going to become "the next big thing" in computing? I have no idea but I do believe it will be interesting to watch. I am guessing that a ChromeBook will never be your primary computer, but it should be a perfect complement to it.
Today, I ordered a ChromeBook made by Samsung. It weighs 3.3 pounds, has a 12.1-inch screen that displays 1280-by-800 pixels, stereo speakers, a built-in webcam, a 4-in-1 memory card reader, a full-size keyboard, and includes the 3G Verizon networking. The Samsung ChromeBook sells for $429 with wi-fi networking but without 3G networking or $499 for the model that includes both types of networks.
Another option, that I did not select, is the ChromeBook made by Acer. It has similar specifications to the Samsung unit except for the following:
- There is no 3G networking available. The Acer is limited only to wi-fi networks.
- The Acer will last only 6 hours on a charge, versus 8 hours for the Samsung.
- The Acer screen is a half-inch smaller at 11.6-inches. I doubt if that makes much difference.
- The Acer also has a full-size keyboard.
- The Acer ChromeBook is about a third of a pound lighter (2.95 pounds versus the Series 5's 3.26 pounds). I suspect the extra weight of the Samsung is because of the battery: it lasts two hours longer and also has to power a 3G network card. The extra power drain probably requires a bigger and heavier battery.
- The Acer has HD audio support and an HDMI port as well, items not found on the Samsung.
- The Acer is cheaper at $350.
You can see a side-by-side comparison chart of the two models at http://goo.gl/i0nzU.
I decided I wanted the 3G networking so I went for the Samsung model. Details may be found on Amazon at http://goo.gl/hMN9g.
At these prices, I could have purchased a "netbook" computer with more disk drive storage. Netbooks start at about $225 and go up to around $450. They typically run Windows, although a few run Linux, and the user can install all sorts of programs on the built-in disk drives of 160 gigabytes or more. However, I could never get used to the netbooks' cramped keyboards and tiny screens. I used a netbook for a couple of months but never liked it. I am hoping the ChromeBooks' larger screens and full-sized keyboards will be more practical.
The ChromeBooks are not supposed to ship until June 15 but I was fortunate enough to get in on an "early shipment." I expect to receive the ChromeBook next week. However, I also expect to be in California the latter part of the week and early the following week for the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree. Let's hope the ChromeBook arrives before I leave home. I would love to have it with me on my trip for a "real world" test.
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