Netbooks, Chrome and the future of computing

Netbooks, Chrome and the future of computing

Summary: Combine netbooks like the Asus Eee PC 900 , which we've been reviewing, and Google Chrome. They change computing in fundamental ways.

TOPICS: Cloud, Hardware

Robin Blankenhorn and the Asus EeePCCombine netbooks like the Asus Eee PC 900 , which we've been reviewing, and Google Chrome.

They change computing in fundamental ways.

We're accustomed to thinking of computing as a client (desktop or laptop) linked to a server (Intranet or Internet) through an interface (a browser) which translates HTML code on the server to a mind behind the screen.

Now witness the future.

There are two clients, a “home” computer which may still live in a home or office, and a “remote” computer (either an Asus or something like an iPhone), for use on the road.

Google Chrome beta logoThe client interfaces to Web applications, not pages. The difference is crucial. A Web app is software, not content. It's hosted either in a corporate or service cloud, not a defined location.

Both clients are synced to the cloud. You have files, the cloud has files. Which is primary and which is back-up is up to you.

This becomes clear once you learn Chrome's address bar. It's a search bar, a direct link into the Google search engine. It is, in fact, a Web application.

The operating system, in the case of both the browser and the netbook, becomes meaningless.

Google Chrome comic, page 6 closeupI am certain Google is going to have versions of Chrome for Linux and the Mac (the current version is by the time this comes out of beta test.

The software is designed to be a web application interface, not a Web page interface, with each tab a separate instance of the software, having full access to your processing power and memory.

The Asus comes with Windows XP, if you want it, but why would you want it? All your common applications are built-in. The solid state design makes a hard disk superfluous. You could plug 80 Gbytes in via a USB port, but if you can get an 8 Gbyte stick for $50 what's the point?

But there are limits.

ASUS EeePC with ZDNet Open Source home page displayedJust as there is no hard disk in this unit, there is also no DVD drive. It is what it is, not what you make it.

One thing I have not pointed out before is the location of the speaker and microphone jacks. They're on the side, near the front.

This makes the Asus a Skype box, ready for Internet telephony enhancements like whiteboards and video. (Did I mention that's a 1.3 Megapixel Webcam on top of the screen, pointed at your head?)

The Asus weighs less than a kilogram, with the battery plugged-in. Thus it is light enough for the back of a car, small enough for the tray table on the seatback in front of you.

There is a merger coming between the netbook and Internet clients like the iPhone, which fit in your pocket. This is key.

The merger will happen in the cloud.

Back-up files and configuration live online, synced with whatever device you're on. Online services become real services, providing open source a superior business model.

DanaÂ’s Office in March 1983, starting as a tech freelance(To the left, my office when I launched my career in tech freelancing, March, 1983.)

One more important point.

In the case of both Chrome and netbooks like the Asus we are still barely at Version 1.0. Microsoft Windows didn't become a winner until it hit Version 3.0. So there's some evolving yet to happen.

But I can see the future, and it's different. I may have finally found what I'm looking for.


Topics: Cloud, Hardware

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  • Is that a Compaq 'Hernia' Luggable?

    I am afraid to admit I had one of those.
    D T Schmitz
    • And the dot matrix impact printer and continuous feed paper

      The noise reminded you of the effort put into the document.
      Richard Flude
      • Got Me Fired

        I would print out letter-perfect copy from my desk at
        the Atlanta Business Chronicle, which then had to be
        manually entered across the room.

        Drove everyone crazy. Helped cost me my job.
    • I think the luggable computer...

      I think the luggable "sewing machine" is a Kaypro
      Roque Mocan
      • You are Correct, Roque Mocan!

        I bought the Kaypro in 1982, after being given a new
        tech beat at the Atlanta Business Chronicle. I was
        able to do the work of 3 men with it, and was
        obnoxious about it. So they canned me and hired 3 men.

        A few months ago I had a tryout at Newsweek. I lugged
        that damned thing all the way up Peachtree Ridge. Talk
        about your Battle of Atlanta....

        Good times.
      • Oh, I remember The Kaypro luggable!

        I was working in the Investment Leasing Dept. of a major bank in the mid-Eighties when the Numbers guys first started carrying them around - twenty lovely pounds of personal computer with a (OMG!) built-in CGA screen behind the fold-out keyboard so they could actually demo [i]color spreadsheets[/i]! Whoo-hoo!

        I think it even had a (gasp!) built-in modem....
        • Kaypro CGA Screen ???

          Those where not Kaypro's you are talking about if they had CGA (color) screens.

          The Kaypro was not a DOS computer, it predates DOS. It sports an 8 bit Z-80 processor and 64k of RAM. It runs an OS called CP/M. Wordstar was the word processor of choice. In fact it came with the whole suite Wordstar/Calcstar and an odd data base (Dbase 2 was the rage at the time).

          Even though it has less processing power than the keyboard of todays computers we did meaningful work on them. Networking with 1200 baud modems. Atlanta was also the home of Ward Christensen who was doing open source before anyone knew what open source was.

          Enough reminiscing....
  • Correction

    "It???s a search bar, a direct link into the Google
    search engine. It is, in fact, a Web application."

    On my computer it is a direct link to Microsoft's
    search engine, aka Live Search.
    • Really?

      I didn't know that could be done. Fascinating. Thanks
      for that. I assume you can link the search bar to
      Yahoo as well.

      The point remains it's a Web application, not just an
      address bar.
      • It's no innovation

        You could always do search from the location bar in Firefox. Some users remove the search box, considering it redundant. The search box provides the UI to quickly switch search engines, however - a feature that seems to be missing from Chrome.
  • I don't buy it.

    Maybe it's the future for some people but not me.
    • Don't worry, some people refused to use telephones for the longest time too

      • Call me a Luddite, but I'm more productive without

        Well I refuse to be accessible 24/7 by cell phone and fact of the matter is, 99% of the time when the phone rings its a time wasting interruption I'd be better off without.

        Email doesn't bother me anymore with "notifications" since I turned its doodads off, so I check it on my schedule when I have time to deal with it -- by generally just deleting all the repeat messages saying the same thing from different sources within the company. I'm not sure they fully understand the difference between communication and noise. There may be 5% of my Email that is actually useful to me -- way better than the phone!
      • LOL - still proving everyone right I see - nt

        BTW - the NT goes on the subject line.
  • I say Yamato you say Yamato.

    Before WWII even started the battleship was considered by many to be a resource hogging, money sinking waste of old technology. In spite of the "writing on the wall" the United States and every other major power continued to design and build, at great expense, these giant monuments to outdated thinking. Japan takes the prize for the biggest and best. They built the Yamato and her sister ship the Musashi. These were the absolute biggest battleships ever built with 9 ? 460 mm (18.1 in) main guns. They were beautiful too. But the aircraft carrier was the new paradigm. Whoever had the most carriers and the best carriers would win. Having a fleet full of battleships was a liability.

    Microsoft has a fleet full of battleships and their thinking won't allow them to conceive of building the new kind of ship. What worked so well for them in the last century is killing them in this one.
    • sorry

      but I don't see anyone litigating against google for abscene profit margins or a so-called monopoly so I don't think MS has anything to worry about just yet. ;) and until everyone can afford a DS3 or DS4 to their homes, response times won't be fast enough for people to work from. Or until every beach, every island, every plane, every desert, every ocean, every lake, pond, every internal bowls of a concrete and steel building, etc. has a high speed internet connection - this won't be something that takes off and will be religated to a niche market.
    • Not entirely accurate

      Battleships were still useful for shore bombardment - but not very cost-effective. They needed aircraft carriers to protect them, however.

      Japan's main problem was that they failed to train enough pilots, not foreseeing the heavy losses they would take. The Germans and Italians were the ones who couldn't conceive of building the new kind of ship - and thereby conceded control of the sea to Britain. Still a good metaphor; even better this way, in fact, it makes Microsoft the Nazis. lol
    • To abuse the metaphor further...

      The battleship Yamato doesn't become truly useful until it's raised and fitted with a spacedrive and Wave Motion Gun.
  • Being certain Chrome will have Mac/Linux clients when it comes out of beta

    has about as much impact as saying me saying I'm sure we'll learn how to harness vacuum energy by the time Chrome comes out of beta. Because that's about how long Google stays in beta with its applications.
    Michael Kelly
    • Not always

      I don't know how long it will take Chrome to get to
      version 1.0. Right now we're at version 0.2. So it's a
      long way away.

      But for Version 0.2 stuff it's pretty good. Not
      perfect. I've found silly delays in tabs' responding
      to new page load commands at times. And how is Chrome
      crashing Google News so often?

      But that's what happens in version 0.2.