Five reasons why Google's new Chromebook isn't a Windows-killer

Five reasons why Google's new Chromebook isn't a Windows-killer

Summary: Some analysts are convinced that Google's new OS marks the beginning of the end for Windows. But I've seen this movie before. The Chromebook is a glorified netbook, and its deceptive price tag comes with too many question marks.

TOPICS: Google, Browser, Security

At Google’s I/O conference this week, the audience erupted into cheers when they heard the news that they were getting a free notebook powered by the Chrome OS. It’s too bad that the audience was filled with developers instead of the IT pros who Google is counting on to actually buy these things. Something tells me that the latter audience would have been sitting on their hands for most of the session, and they wouldn't have been swayed by that Oprah moment.

My ZDNet colleague Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is convinced that the Chromebook is going to finally usher in the era of desktop Linux. You can read his rosy perspective here: Five Reasons why Google's Linux Chromebook is a Windows killer.

As for me, this looks like the same old movie we’ve seen over and over. I’m certainly not ready to buy it yet, and here are my five reasons why:

1. The price is wrong. Every used-car salesman with a shiny suit and a bad toupee knows the first rule of selling a clunker: focus on the monthly payment and don’t talk about the total price. That’s exactly what the Googlers have done. That $28 a month price tag sounds OK until you realize it comes with a three-year commitment. The total for those 36 monthly payments is $1,008. For a glorified netbook?

That same grand will buy you one hellacious PC or even a MacBook, which you can configure according to your users’ needs instead of retraining your users to work with a whole new set of unfamiliar web-based apps.

2. Automatic updates are a nightmare. Google’s pitch for Chrome OS is that its automatic updates mean “continuous improvement.” Automatic updates are a new idea? Funny, I thought Windows (and OS X, for that matter) did that just fine. Indeed, Microsoft’s commitment to sustained engineering and regular updates is legendary, which is why Windows 7 today is more reliable and secure than it was when it was released a year and a half ago.

The trouble with pushing updates to every user automatically is that sometimes those updates break things. That’s already the case with Google’s browser, Chrome, whose frantic update cadence finally drove Technologizer’s Harry McCracken away:

[I]n recent days, some of the Web sites I use most—, Twitter, and Facebook—have stopped working properly in Chrome. I’m uncertain of why, but the most likely explanation is that they’re reacting badly to the newest version of Chrome, which, like all Chrome updates, was installed automatically on my computer. So I’m switching for the time being to Safari, where all those sites behave like they should.

That’s annoying but tolerable on a platform where you at least have the option to use an alternative browser.  But do you really want to be the IT guy when your users begin calling you on Monday morning to tell you that your mission-critical, browser-based, line-of-business app isn’t working anymore? Just like it did last month when you had to pay your crack team of custom programmers triple overtime to fix things?

Old-fashioned IT people like to have control over update cycles because they want to test OS updates before they deploy them. Even if you save a few bucks by going Google, you’ll spend it all on Tums and Rolaids if you have to work at Google’s pace.

Page 2: Apps, connections, and security -->

<-- Previous page

3. Do all your apps run in a browser? Hope you love Google, because it’s the only first-class citizen in this ecosystem. Google brags that you can “keep using the same browser-based applications that you use today,” which begs the question of why you need to make a change. Meanwhile, apps that aren’t owned and operated by Google—like traditional CRM and accounting—need not apply.

Do your programmers have a development environment that runs in a browser? Can your creative employees do page layout and edit videos on an Atom-powered netbook using a browser-based app?

If your business depends on one of those stubbornly old-fashioned non-web apps, Google’s answer is a curious one:

Applications can range from the Google Apps productivity suite, including offline features, to custom-built tools running inside your firewall. For the few things that can’t be done through the web, desktop virtualization technology, like Citrix, can provide access to native-only apps.

Hold on there, pardner. The fixed costs of setting up that virtualization infrastructure are daunting. If you’re going to go to all that trouble, you might as well make the most of it. Estimates I’ve seen suggest that the average enterprise has a minimum of 15 and sometimes as many as 50 custom line-of-business applications. After making that serious an investment, you might even want to run the real Office on it.

4. Universal connectivity is a pipe dream. Do you really want to bet the productivity of your entire workforce on having reliable, fast Internet access everywhere? I’ve been in modern office buildings that might as well be made of lead when it comes to acquiring a cellular signal. And do you really want to have to beg your client or a sales prospect for access to their WiFi connection when you’re trying to close a million-dollar deal?

They do acknowledge this fact in the (literal) fine print at the bottom of the Chromebook Features page:

Obviously, you're going to need a wireless network, be willing to use it subject to the provider's terms and conditions, and be ready to put up with its real life limitations including, for example, its speed and availability. When you do not have network access, functionality that depends on it will not be available.

Google brags that “only minimal data is stored on the device.” That might not be such a good thing when the piece of data you really need right now is on a server you can’t reach.

5. There’s more to security than viruses. It’s ironic but understandable that Google would raise the specter of viruses at every turn. After all, this is the company whose dreadful PC management policies allowed them to get thoroughly compromised by Chinese hackers last year. But the threat landscape is varied and ever-changing, and Google hasn’t proven itself under fire.

Meanwhile, companies large and small have a wide range of security needs, some of them dictated by very specific laws. They also have ongoing relationships with security partners they know and trust. They use third-party disk encryption utilities like PGP and BitLocker. Google says their “verified boot” technology is just as good. Want to bet your company on it? And do you really want all your business data stored on Google's servers?

Earlier this week, when Google announced its new music service, it actually included the word Beta in the product’s name. Given where Chrome OS is today, it probably deserves that tag as well. Maybe in a year—or two, or three or five—Chrome OS will be ready for prime time. But not today.

Related Stories:

Topics: Google, Browser, Security

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Reason #1 .... is buggy.

    Reason #2: is not even a netbook. It is a "net appliance" with a keyboard. It has less functionality than a netbook.

    Reason #3: $28 * 36 months = $1,008 .... for something that has less functionality than a similarly spec $200 Acer Netbook.
    • Ed should not even bother responding to that FOSS-tard

      Everyone knows the clown is full of it.
    • You don't get it

      @wackoae You don't get it. This is not for consumers. A minimum of 10 Chromebooks must be rented in the $20/$28 monthly plan. This is for companies and education institutions so your calculation has other implications:<br><br>Many companies and education institutions areas would be well served with a simpler machine that has software upgrades and hardware support covered in a $20/$28 month plan. Less IT infra-structure needed, less software and hardware to support, less software licenses to pay for etc. The price includes software upgrades and hardware support (by the way, where are the software and hardware maintenance costs in your calculation?).

      Defect? Get a new Chromebook, and since it is stateless all your work is there, ready in minutes.<br><br>The point of paying $20/$28 month is to reduce hardware, software and maintenance costs that otherwise would be expended in full-blown PCs that, in most cases, don't need to be full-blown PCs. Virtualization will give access to extras, but most PCs are underused anyway. Those can be simpler and cheaper in many cases, and those cases are perfect for the Chromebook concept.
      • Well said

        @BioNerd An eloquent case for the defense. My main problem is the lack of apps. Chrome store won't do it. Not sure about virtualisation on Cytrix. Can you really run arbitrary Windows programs?
        The Star King
      • RE: Five reasons why Google's new Chromebook isn't a Windows-killer

        @BioNerd <br><br>You are forgetting to do the math! A minimum of 10, you say? In that case:<br><br>$28 * 36 = $1,008<br><br>$1,008 * 10 = $10,080<br><br>
        Add 10 more users and you're up to paying $20,160 a year.<br><br><br>That's a lot of money. And again you mention that "Less IT infra-structure needed, less software and hardware to support, less software licenses to pay for etc"<br><br>But what company is willing to pay money to drop what they know and go with an untested system made by a company with a poor and shady track record? <br>There is also a reason that IT infrastructure is in place. That infrastructure consists of servers, firewalls, routers, switches, etc. That hardware is there to provide security, and assure reliability. And if something goes wrong, you have in house technicians to correct the problem. What would happen if you were to go Google, and outsource IT? Would they be as fast and snappy to fix your problem? How many extra hours of downtime would you have as a result? There are benefits to having your own IT staff, that outweigh the costs they incur.<br><br>Google is a company that throws things against the wall to see if they stick, if not they get canned, and those that invested in those technologies get screwed.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Yes, this is for consumers too


        I'm not sure where you get "this is not for consumers." The subscription based plans are for businesses and education, but Google is also selling this machine to consumers via Best Buy and Amazon.

        Google wants to be all things to all people.
        Ed Bott
      • You don't get it.

        They don't just teach "web based" programs in schools, nor do schools run "web based" academic software. There is also a need to control what and where the students take these systems, and Google [b]will not[/b] have the response time that a local admin on a school network has.

        I've been involved with many schools and businesses in the last 8 years, and I can tell you the "high cost" to run the network is not what most of the "ABM's" or "Pro-Googlers" want you to believe.

        Schools are responsable for our children the hours they are in school, yet many think they will happily hand that responsibility over to Google some 3000 miles away?

        We heard those [i]exact[/i] same arguments all before with Linux based computers, and it wasn't the case, why should we believe this is any different?
        John Zern
      • They did not mention the word &quot;consumer&quot; in the conference

        @Ed Bott They said in the press conference that the main Chromebook target are businesses. Or do you think consumers care about Citrix and VMWare? Or will rent 10 Chromebooks (minimum for the leasing plan) for personal use? Yes sure it'll be sold in stores because some users will like the price, speed and simplicity: boot and 8 seconds later you're reading your email, playing Angry Birds or checking Twitter and Facebook -- that's what most users want. But their QA was not about consumer usage, it was all about how they will "free up IT departments to do other more interesting and profit-centered things".<br><br>@Cylon Centurion 0005 those number are nothing to companies. They expend a lot more than that only to maintain full blown hardware that is only used for basic tasks. And where are the maintenance costs in your calculations?<br><br>Chromebook doesn't need to take the enterprise world by a storm. Low end today, high end tomorrow: they just need to get a parcel of their millions of Google Apps users to adopt Chromebook in some areas of their businesses. Not all areas need a full blown PC with all the maintenance costs that it carries. <br><br>If they get 1 million Chromebook users worldwide, which is a pessimistic prediction, this is $ 300 million less revenue/year for Microsoft. And so on.<br><br>Google has a big plan that wasn't built overnight. All things fit together to serve this niche: Google Apps, Chrome, Google Apps Marketplace, Chrome Store, Native Client for Chrome, Chrome OS and now, Chromebook.
      • What hardware maintenance costs?

        I have 5 systems here, 2 are 5 years old, and I've haven't had to spend a dime in maintenance, they're fine and nothing needed replacing.

        So what is this "maintenance costs" that I here about? The AV? Free and automatic.

        Still not see what I'm doing wrong if I haven't had to spend any extra money maintaining this.
        Will Pharaoh
      • You need to pay closer attention

        @BioNerd <br><br>Read the blog post: <br><br><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a><br><br>"Today, we're announcing the first Chromebooks from our partners, Samsung and Acer. ... We're ALSO announcing Chromebooks for Business and Education."<br><br>Like I said, they are promising something for everyone.
        Ed Bott
      • Message has been deleted.

      • You should have watched the QA instead of reading blog posts

        @Ed Bott You should have watched the QA. It was all about Chromebook in business. But yeah they will also sell it to consumers. I think it doesn't have much chance in consumerland although some people will find it convenient and attractive. But for businesses it may be way more attractive.
      • RE: Five reasons why Google's new Chromebook isn't a Windows-killer

        No I don't think you get it either.
        I've done more than my share of corporate purchases and I understand the cost of warranties and service on top of the price of hardware. A generalized figure would be twice the cost of the hardware to encompass service and warranties. In the case of this chromebook, it is still way overprice. This hardware is not worth much more than $250.

        As an enterprise architect and dev I don't see how I can sufficiently build enterprise software with the chromebook as is in its current incarnation. Maybe in about 5 years when google's cloud has A LOT more to offer and can address many many development issues. But right now it would be a total disaster to ask a company to use it to develop. It is possible to develop off of something much more robust like windows and then have all your end users use chromebook. But that is the most simplistic way of looking at it. The end user, even if they just write documents and use the web app will still encounter issues. When clients send them a word 2010 document, what are they suppose to do? There is no way for google docs to convert those documents. There is a whole host of security issues that is not flushed out. Our company requires full disk encryption by DOD certified software. Are they even going to apply that to a chromebook? Maybe maybe not. The point is, your company will have to spend alot of money doing field testing even if everything they tested passes the test perfectly.

        We don't even know how chromebook will do virtualization. If its their own proprietary methods, most companies will balk at it because it bypasses their security methodology.

        The risk factor is very very high. I can guarantee at the boardroom when they discuss risk mitigation, their conclusion is going to be "forget this, we can't run those risks until they flush everything out more thoroughly, let someone else be the guinea pig".

        And as for school. I remember my college days when classes required me to install all kinds of software. you can't do that here. You have to hope that there is a cloud equivalent and that the school is ok with it. Again, risk mitigation. Do you want to be left standing there going "damn, I can't do that".
      • RE: Five reasons why Google's new Chromebook isn't a Windows-killer


        You don't get it.

        "IT people like to have control over update cycles because they want to test OS updates before they deploy them."

        "some of the Web sites I use most?, Twitter, and Facebook?have stopped working properly in Chrome. I?m uncertain of why, but the most likely explanation is that they?re reacting badly to the newest version of Chrome, which, like all Chrome updates, was installed automatically on my computer. "

        "do you really want to be the IT guy when your users begin calling you on Monday morning to tell you that your mission-critical, browser-based, line-of-business app isn?t working anymore? "
      • Low end today, high end tomorrow

        @rengek They don't need to replace everything. Low end today, high end tomorrow. Enterprises will start experimenting with non-critical appliances for users that that don't need a full blown PC, Office etc. Just because maintenance costs are much cheaper, less IT professionals are needed etc. Allowed apps can be defined by the IT department, etc.

        Chromebook will start slowly at the low end, and then it will get its chunk of the business and education market from inside.
  • Message has been deleted.

    • Message has been deleted.

      • Message has been deleted.

      • Message has been deleted.
      • Message has been deleted.