Chromebooks and the Cloud: The Ugly Truth
These days when Google talks, we all listen. This was especially true about an announcement from Google I/O last week around the forthcoming release of the long-awaited Chromebooks platform. You can think of Chromebooks as a browser-only netbook, which has to rely on connectivity into cloud-based services for its applications and file storage.
The price tag is not very compelling. Chromebooks will cost $349 to $469 if you buy one outright from Acer or Samsung, or $28 per month to rent from Google. Last I looked, I could get basic but fully functional laptops and netbooks for that money running Windows 7 and providing tons of local storage -- as well as a browser I'm not forced to use for everything.
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Of course Google and many in the press are promoting the Chromebook as a "cloud device," something that exists as a client for a new era of cloud services and thus has very little functionality when disconnected from the Internet. But I believe the Chromebook's dependence on cloud services for word processing, email, and other common functions is its weakness rather than its strength.
Cloud computing is indeed the wave of the future. Today, I use on-demand services to provide both a platform for sharing and as an efficient substitute for client-based software. The difference with that use of cloud computing compared to the Chromebook's is that I'm not forced to be completely dependent on the cloud for these services; I can mix and match them to meet my specific needs. I don't think I'm alone in wanting that freedom.
Thus, Chromebooks could be to laptops what Google TV was to cable TV: a great idea in concept, but not thought through as to how the device would be used in the real world by real people. The innovative nature of the Chromebook won't get around its inherent limitations. I suspect the Chromebook will be a concept that does not take flight, at least in the next couple of years. That's not a knock on the cloud, but a knock on this specific use case. That's the ugly truth.