Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

Summary: After having a chance to play with the Google Cr-48 Chromebook prototype, I'm stymied as to who the real Chromebook user is supposed to be. So far, I don't see myself in that category.

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Along with 59,999 or so other lucky folks, I've gotten a chance to play with the Cr-48 Chromebook prototype from Google.

(I'm not sure how a Microsoft watcher like me got on the short list. Maybe my "straying" from the Windows fold with an iPad earned me Google points? Regardless, thanks for the loaner, Google.)

The Cr-48 test machines shipped to us are  brand-less black notebook/netbooks. (The name is a play on words, with "Cr" representing the element Chromium and Cr48 an isotype of that element.) I know my ZDNet colleague Chris Dawson doesn't think the Cr-48 a netbook, but that seems to be the category it fits best, in my opinion.

I am not a netbook hater. In fact, when Windows 7 was released to market a year ago, I was leaning toward getting a Windows 7 netbook as my first new Windows PC in three years. (I ended up buying a "thin and light" laptop, but did get to play extensively with the Toshiba mini NB205 netbook and liked it a lot.)

What I appreciate primarily about netbooks is the portability factor. I think Microsoft and the majority of its PC partners have given short shrift to the growing category of users for whom size matters. The emphasis with Windows 7 on the consumer front, at least up until quite recently, has been how it looks and works on PCs with bigger, glossier screens. But anyone who has tried to use a 13-inch laptop on a plane, train or automobile knows, bigger isn't always better. Bigger PCs also typically consume more battery more quickly, which is another ding, in my opinion. A smaller PC with more battery life -- plus fast start-up and shut-down? Now that'd be a winner!

Does the Chromebook fulfill all these goals? No. The Cr-48 is not any lighter than most laptops. It's 12-inch screen means it isn't really much smaller. Its eight-hour battery life and fast hibernation/resume -- even at this beta stage -- does give it a leg up over many existing Windows PCs. I'm not really loving the new scrolling keys Google added to the Cr-48s. (If something's not broke, why "fix" it?) But otherwise, the Chromebook is a usable, fairly unexceptional netbook.

What about the OS itself? The Linux-based Chrome OS didn't bowl me over, to be honest.

I am used to the way Windows enables me to install and organize/store apps and data. That said, there are very very few non-Web apps that I use on my Windows 7 PC. As I've noted before, I spend the vast majority of my time consuming rather than creating content. When I do "create," I do most of my writing in Notepad and then cut and paste my text into WordPress or an e-mail message. These days, I create very few "documents" in Word, Excel or PowerPoint. And Chrome OS still allowed me to view Office documents via Office Web Apps. Yes, I missed my SnagIt program that lets me capture and save images, but wouldn't doubt there will be a Web-app version coming someday soon. And via Google's partnership with Citrix, I should be able to access any legacy apps I need that don't end ported to Chrome OS, I'd think.

It's kind of fun to search for apps in the Chrome Web Store. But Windows is getting the app store treatment, too. I don't care if I have to wait a bit for that.

Using the Chromebook over the weekend, I kept coming back to the "why not" question. Why not just put the Chrome browser on a Windows netbook? If Google's target with these machines and this OS is "people who live on the Web" -- in other words, just about any business or consumer customer -- why would they want a Chromebook instead of a PC?

With a PC, users have choices. They don't have to install Office or Photoshop or any other PC app. If they want, they can access Web apps and never install anything locally. With the Chromebook, I couldn't use anything that wasn't a Web app. Such an approach makes sense for users whose employers want to limit the apps their employees can access, but Windows PCs can be locked down, too. Can't I do exactly what I can with the Cr-48 on my Toshiba netbook, running my choice of Chrome, Internet Explorer and/or Firefox?

I don't mind losing certain features and functionality if the trade-off is worth it. With the iPad, I can't install certain  Windows apps to which I've grown accustomed, like the Zune client and Word. But the form factor size, portability, battery life, instant-on/off and access to a centralized app store make this trade-off OK in my book. With the Cr-48, I don't see what I am gaining; I just see what I am missing.

If you're an ABM (Anything But Microsoft) shop or household, the Chrome OS and a Chromebook might make sense for you. But if the first shipping Chromebooks are priced anywhere near $500 when they hit in mid-2011, I don't see why users wouldn't just buy netbooks instead. (When Google first announced plans for Chrome OS a year-plus ago, the thinking was that machines running the OS would be cheaper than Windows PCs because OEMs wouldn't have to pay for a Windows license. I haven't heard that argument lately for whatever reasons....)

I'm stymied as to who the real Chromebook user is supposed to be. So far, I don't see myself in that category. What about you?

Topics: Google, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

    I agree. I really don't see the market for a device like this. If it was <$300 and included a cellular modem, then it might compete with the tablet market. As it is, it's nothing more than the failed "internet appliance" that Sun tried to create in the late '90s.
    spivonious
    • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

      @spivonious
      this is a revolution that would replace windoze with Linux.
      Linux Geek
      • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

        @Linux Geek

        Come back in 1 - 3 years and eat your words.
        bobiroc
      • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

        @Linux Geek <br>Nope. I just tried a beta version of Chrome OS on one of my laptops. It still has the same old problem with LINUX: lack of drivers for much common hardware.
        Liam SWz
      • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

        @Linux Geek - what EXACTLY does ChromeOS do that Windows/OSX/Linux cannot?

        What SPECIFIC benefits does ChromeOS deliver that cannot be achieved on any existing desktop OS?

        What are the REALISTIC reasons that people will choose to buy a machine running a lobotomozed OS?
        bitcrazed
      • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

        @Linux Geek I see the parade of moronic Linux haters in any way shape or form are attempting to pile on. ahaha......<br><br>But I don't know why you fell for this moronic wench's idea of what is good or bad about any Linux based Chrome OS computing device. That bobiroc, darkmoonman and bitcrazed feel desperately in need of dissing on. Not the least of them, is bobiroc who lives to troll Linux stories on ZDNet and just as happy to follow this lame brained non-blond's idea in her illogical perception of Chromebooks as any other Windoze or CrApple lover in defense of these less than honorable companies.<br><br>First off.... suggesting that Chromebooks are going to be anywhere near $500 is pure moonglow fantasy on her part. The main problem is that none of these fools have even bought a Window's 7 Netbook to compare it too and since CrApple's iFad Tablet isn't a netbook, it shouldn't even be in the comparison. Windoze 7 Netbooks are devices with an OS so basic that it's better compared to a stripped down DOS OS device or even an Android tablet or phone device beats it. Windows 7 Basic is one very crappy excuse for an OS that boots atrociously slow and they don't even give you the ability to something as basic as changing your desktop graphics. That's a basic component of every single other OS on any device on the planet. So you've got to dump buckets of cash into Microcrud's hands just to change your desktop? How asinine is that? But then there they are holding their hand out for more money for most other features that any valid OS competitor would have had in their full Operating System to begin with. Like even plain old Linux comes more complete with the moment you boot it up the first time on an install your own system.<br><br>Next here, we have the typical iCrAppleholics also chiming in, on defense of CrApple's money grubbing ploy in using an App Store to pick your pocket with now including everyone else. Google offers all their App Addon's for Chrome OS itself absolutely free. But for the cripple brained Windoze and iCrApple device users, where they're still trying to sell them half assed Operating System, at twice the price, after you've finally ponied up the Bucks to make it even near a Full OS that full Linux comes as out of box for FREE. All the cash just so you can do simple things like change a background to one of your own pictures to replace the ad that Microcrud locks to Windows 7 Netbooks. Which is what Google Chromebook gives users Free that Windoze 7 Netbook users are forced to pay for! .......try to get that through a non-blond BLONDE Windoze user's head, like Mary Jo and you've already lost the battle of wits with a NO-Brainer! ;)
        i2fun@...
      • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

        @i2fun

        Dude. Your rant made <.001*sense.

        Anyway, even if you prefer Linux, I still don't see what makes the Chrome OS anything preferable to Linux Mint, or even Ubuntu Netbook Remix?
        PlayFair
      • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

        @i2fun why is it every single post you write has something negative to do with Apple even when no one else mentions them? Seriously stay on target you pretentious troll.
        athynz
      • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

        @Linux Geek
        It is not the OS that is the problem. It is the concept that is the problem. I have no beef with Linux, but I want an option for local storage and programs.
        MichaelWells
      • And then you woke up and smelled the coffee...

        @Linux Geek
        There is no revolution. There's nothing Chrome OS does that ANY other OS does better. In fact, there are lots of things it can't do that even regular distros of Linux can do - like install and run local apps.

        @bobiroc

        Think it'll actually take 3 years?

        @bitcrazed

        Marketing... That's about the only reason why someone would opt to buy a laptop with a prefrontal lobotomy..
        Wolfie2K3
      • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

        @i2fun I'm sure your rant had some sort of idea's in it, but with all of you Windoze and crApple comments, you lost all credibility in my eyes of being able to hold an intelligent conversation. Maybe if you could come up with some imaginative instead of the same old retreads I used 10 years ago when I thought it made me sound cool. Now it just makes you sound like a hasbeen.
        swattz101
      • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

        That explanation seems to be verified by a posting on Quora, in response to a question How do you become a Windows Phone MVP?<a href="http://ipadbagblog.com/"><font color="light&amp;height"> ipad bag blog</font></a> of best <a href="http://www.sutudeg.org/"><font color="light&amp;height">sutudeg community</font></a> the modern <a href="http://wposfv.com/"><font color="light&amp;height">education news</font></a> and The answer:
        Linux Love
      • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

        your apps might as well live there too and there won't be a need for a full OS<a href="http://www.6999999.com/"><font color="light&amp;height"> automotive</font></a> of industry that <a href="http://www.belex-homes.com/"><font color="light&amp;height">home</font></a> from any the <a href="http://www.fwtrack.com/"><font color="light&amp;height">track</font></a> from people of <a href="http://www.wa2dci.com/"><font color="light&amp;height">best</font></a> any other food <a href="http://www.hemofilia-malaga.org/"><font color="light&amp;height">blood</font></a> to the money anymore.
        gogon gondrong
    • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

      @spivonious

      Yep the Chrome "OS" is simply using Linux to make the Chrome browser run by itself. You can have exactly the same effect on a Windows computer with Chrome or even a Linux laptop (if you can find one and yes this is very deja vu after the last failed attempt to seel Linux laptops).

      A netbook with Win 7 is even cheaper and it's a REAL computer. I'm afraid the only potential user for this computer is the one born every minute ;-)
      tonymcs@...
      • I don't think . . .

        @tonymcs@...

        That you'll get anyone to agree that this thing is worthwhile. We may actually have detente between the Mac users and the Windows crowd here.

        The only ones supporting this thing will be the idiots like Linux Geek . . .
        JLHenry
      • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

        @tonymcs@... well, I believe more than one user is born every minute that neglects to backup their precious data.<br>So that's certainly one of the plusses : when your data is on the cloud you get instant backup, instant virus protection, instant malware protection. And all of that will no doubt cost you a lot less on the cloud than off it.<br>Sure you could put your data on the cloud and run WinOS or MacOS, but once your data is there your apps might as well live there too and there won't be a need for a full OS anymore.<br>And enterprises may be interested in the extra controle this gives them when their employees take 'their' "workstation" home.<br>And you may become interested too, if not as a primary machine than certainly as a cheap, low-weight, mobile secondary machine. And when your primary machine gets stolen ... boy, you'll wish you had your data in the Cloud.
        kleykenb
      • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

        kleykenb...

        Alternately, when the much-hyped cloud our your choice is hacked and/or corrupted, you'll wish you had your data stored locally.
        Churlish
      • Security Model

        @tonymcs@...
        Signed and self-healing. Untrusting by design. Roaming profiles and data back-up with no configuration. That's what's different than putting Chrome on Win7.
        daengbo
    • RE: Chrome OS: Will the real (potential) user please stand up?

      @spivonious -- The Internet is quite a bit different than it was in the late 90's. The whole point of the Chrome Notebook is to use Google (and other) services which didn't exist in the late 90s. And another thing that didn't exist in the late 90s was the multitudes of viruses and malware that almost exclusively attack Windows machines.
      rcentros
    • ParadigmShift?

      @spivonious, I think the Cr-48 is 3G capable if I'm not mistaken.<br><br>But whether this all "works" or not, I'm glad that Google is exploring a possible paradigm shift in the way the masses use computers. The idea of a thin-client or network computer has been tossed about for years, but Google is actually trying to see if it will work with real people. I think it's very intriquing and has some real potential.

      Who knows whether this will "take-off" or not, but they've put their money where their mouth is. Their experiment has only just begun, so let's give it some time before we assume that it's failed...

      I showed my wife (who uses an XP-based netbook) the Cr-48 in some YouTube demos and she was drooling for it! I'm a senior level software engineer and technical architect of thirty years, and I see all kinds of interesting possibilities and it's actually reviving my interest in computers again! (I love "less is more" kinds of things! And I love what Alan Kay said: "Simple things should be simple; complex things should be possible.")
      renee.blatchely@...