Sunday 27 June 2021

Chromebook (2011)

Introduced June 2011

Chromebooks are boring. Not as sleek as a tablet, not as powerful as a laptop. They’re for people who think a chicken korma might be a bit spicy and whose automobile of choice is an off-brand South-East Asian compact people carrier which just reliably gets them, their family and the dog from A to B with the minimum of fuss.

Based on Google’s Chrome OS - derived from the open source (but still largely Google) Chromium OS which is essentially a lightweight version of Linux – Chromebooks are inexpensive laptop-like devices designed for running web applications and a somewhat limited range of native apps, plus on many devices that ability to run applications designed for Android.

Currently most Chromebooks run on Intel-compatible processors, especially lower-end Celeron CPUs. Alternatively some variant of the ARM processor can be used, but these seem to be losing popularity. Like laptops there are a variety of configurations, mostly different screen sizes and CPUs. Internal storage is usually very limited as it is expected that most storage will be done in Google’s cloud. Similarly, there’s only limited functionality available without an internet connection.

HP Somethingorother
HP Somethingorother

Bland? Well, when you consider that people shell out thousands for high-end devices such as Macbooks but only use them for web browsing, they are certainly better value for money… in the same way that most expensive four-wheel drive SUVs never go further off the road than the supermarket car park. Since most Chromebooks tend to cost a few hundred pounds, they are usually a decent value proposition.

There are irritations, one of which being that Google got rid of the CAPS LOCK key to replace it with a search button. Printing can be difficult, but anyone who has tried to print from a smartphone will know that feeling too. You can’t run heavyweight native apps either because the hardware is generally underpowered and there is minimal storage space, but Chromebooks don’t pretend to be laptops. On the plus side they are inexpensive and have a real keyboard which makes them more suitable for real work than a tablet.

One key advantage is security – Windows devices are plagued with viruses and other malware, and so are Macs and even iOS and Android devices to a lesser extent. Although Chromebooks aren’t to security flaws, for all practical purposes they are much safer than using a traditional PC. On the other hand, software updates for Chromebook models have a much shorter lifespan than (say) a Windows PC, especially in early models which led to some hardware becoming obsolete in just a few years.

Chromebooks in a school environment
Chromebooks in a school environment

Did I mention they were boring? Well, really they are... but Chrome OS has a greater market share than the Mac (if you count a Chromebook as a laptop and not a door wedge), and in markets such as education they have a much larger share still. Is the idea a success? It’s a slow burn to be sure, but it does seem that Google and its partners have managed to come up with a viable alternative to Windows, Macs and tablets. Will they be around for another ten years? Given Google's habit of dropping products I would not bet on it..

Image credits:
BUF Simrishamn via Flickr - CC BY 2.0
TechnologyGuide TestLab via Flickr - CC BY 2.0

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