One of the problems with the marketability of the Chromebook — that it only functions when connected to the Internet — is also a misunderstanding. Google’s Chrome OS doesn’t have any locally installed apps like a word processor or spreadsheet manager, so many believe that Chromebooks are dependent on and useless without Wi-Fi or cellular data connectivity. But when Chromebooks ship on June 15, they’ll come packaged with offline versions of Gmail, Docs, and Google Calendar.
Sundar Pichai, vice president of Chrome’s product management, announced at the Google I/O developer’s conference that the company has been using offline versions of Gmail, Docs and Calendar for months, and that not only will Chromebooks sport this feature, those three core services will be available offline to everyone this summer.
Google is positioning itself as the leader for online productivity and our tech culture’s future in the cloud. However, it’s neglecting to highlight its offline features — a marketing oversight that may hold many back from adopting Chrome OS.
But Google does work offline in many ways. All of its Chrome Web Store games (including Angry Birds!) and many of its productivity add-ons work without an Internet connection. The just-launched Google Music Beta also seems like it only works online, but squinting at the fine print reveals that user-chosen and recently played songs are automatically “cached” to play, just in case an Internet connection is lost. That’s basically local storage — an ugly word for Google’s branding and cloud ambitions, but applicable nonetheless.
Also remember that the Chromebooks’ specs include a 4-in-1 memory card slot and 16GB of internal flash storage — another way to “cache” files. If you’re wondering how you’d find locally stored files without a traditional desktop, Chrome OS has a file manager modeled after those found on Windows and Mac computers. And Pichai also essentially gave the go-ahead for users to hack Chromebooks for those who are looking to add more flexibility to Chrome OS.
Many casual users might choose a comparably priced iPad over a Chromebook, and, after hearing about the Chromebook’s “dependence” on the Internet, businesses may avoid these products for fear of failure. But Chromebooks aren’t the Web-crawling hobby-horses many suspect. With Chrome OS being nearly virus-proof, its impressive suite of office productivity apps that are akin to if not better than Microsoft’s, and Google’s innovative pricing structure that allows businesses to receive free hardware upgrades every three years on constantly updated operating systems for $28 per month, Chromebooks may just be the next best solution for small to medium-sized businesses looking to untether from Microsoft Office.