Milestone: I'm recommending Chromebooks instead of Windows laptops for civilians

Milestone: I'm recommending Chromebooks instead of Windows laptops for civilians

Summary: A process, that for Windows would have been fraught with all sorts of issues and fuss, was an instant no-brainer with the Chromebook.

TOPICS: Windows, Google

Our third Chromebook arrived from Amazon yesterday. I only started using Chromebooks a few months ago, and now they're multiplying like rabbits.

For good reason: they just work.

I'll give you a moment of background and then I'll explain why I'm recommending Chromebooks to regular PC users -- and why you may soon find yourself doing the same thing.

I've talked before about my work styles. When I work on projects, I need a tremendous amount of performance and capability. But when I'm not working on projects, most of my work lives in my Web browser, and for that, a Chromebook is just fine.

Back in October, I bought my first Chromebook. I bought it because I was heading out of town and didn't want to lug around an expensive Ultrabook or my iPad, which -- with a keyboard and case -- is also expensive, breaking the thousand dollar mark.

The iPad is also less than useful to me for daily work, because the browser can't be customized with extensions. I rely on a series of extensions and working with the iPad often feels like typing with boxing gloves. It's clunky for real work.

Finally, I bought the Chromebook because it's my job: it's important for me to gain experience with these devices so I can tell you about them.

As it turned out, it was really pleasant to use. It was cheap at $249, and it had some unexpected side benefits. It's the side benefits that prompted this article.

Windows hassles vs. Chromebook

The Chromebook is astonishingly easy to set up. I know, most of you have installed Windows or other operating systems, and you have no difficulty doing so. Same for me. But the actual time and fiddly process of installing or tweaking Windows was highlighted with the Chromebook.

Setup for the Chromebook is five minutes. Power it up. Connect it to your network. Login and wait a few minutes for Chrome to do a quick system update and to download all your settings. Done.

By contrast, typical setup for a new Windows PC is long and drawn out. Boot it up (that alone can take a few minutes). Connect to the network. Dig through the Metro interface to find the new location for Windows Update. Run Windows Update. Go to dinner. Run Windows Update again. Install the Start8 program to get back your Start menu. Download Chrome. Set Chrome as your default browser. Remove all the crapware that came with the PC.

At best, you're talking an hour or more.

The PCs are also more expensive. A cheap PC starts at a hundred bucks or more over the Chromebook and if you want something that will really run Windows software well or is as light and small as the Chromebook, you're moving into two or three times the price of the Chromebook.

A few weeks after I bought my first Samsung Chromebook, the HP 11-inch unit came out, with a better screen and a mini-USB port for charging. I decided I liked that model better, so I returned the Samsung to Staples.

Now, think about what you have to do to prepare a PC with data to be returned or transfered. You need to run something like DBAN to zero out your hard drive, or go through a whole bunch of hoops to find the proper way to nuke an SSD.

You either need to put DBAN on optical media or download and put it on a USB key. Then, when you boot the computer, you have to set the computer to boot off of a different boot device than the default.

You might need to run DBAN overnight to make sure the drive was clean. But, once you do that, you have a machine that won't boot. So in order to give it back to the store in working order, you have to reinstall Windows, probably from a backup partition (if you didn't nuke that with DBAN, too).

Again, it's not hard for a technician, but it's not a five minute task. On the other hand, the Chromebook power wash feature is a five minute task.

If you want to prepare your Chromebook to transfer it to someone else, open Settings. Select power wash. Confirm. Done. Your Chromebook is factory fresh in about five minutes.

The rest of the story is on the next page...

Topics: Windows, Google


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Stop taking this so personally

    No one is telling _you_ to use a Chromebook. You read ZDNet. You have no problem with updates and antivirus and installing apps and finding files. You probably enjoy it. Your relatives, on the other hand, they just want to turn on their computer and update Facebook, check gmail and play Farmville or whatever they play right now. Stop making their lives complicated and next time they ask you for advice what to buy tell them about Chromebooks. You can carry on using windows or Linux and fiddle with computers as much as you like.
    • Half the story

      Everyone glosses over what ChromeOS was designed to do, get direct access to the user and everything about them.

      Imagine if the Chromebook did everything it doe now, but it was put out by the US Government, the NSA or some other similar agency.

      Would you still recommend it to your friends? Why or why not.

      I fail to see how it would be a deal breaker for one, but not for Google.

      Googles entire business model depends on getting as much information on users as possible (even when they break privacy laws to do so).

      They have not been the best steward of guarding the information they do gather either.

      I wonder how many people the recommend and praise the Chromebook are honest about what it is designed to do or tell their friends and family what those aspects.
      • So then what do you suggest?

        So what's the alternative?? Using internet Explorer for your browsing?? As if the same information is not going to be collected no matter what browser/mail servers/websites one uses. The only way to avoid it is to stay off the internet. For those of us who decided the convenience of modern information accessibility is worth the risk of modern information collection, Chromebooks are no more of a risk than any other computer that accesses the internet.

        Certainly, Google is not a worse steward for holding information than Microsoft which has voluntarily cooperated with the NSA in ways that Google has not.
      • The O'L Google is evil for tracking your data FUD

        Yet you believe Microsoft does not do the same without wanting you to know about what they do. As a former media buyer who has seen many past and present offers from vendors who can get your ads in front of targeted Microsoft users, I can tell you you are wrong. There was a time when Microsoft was the best at tracking there customers computer use, and then cam Google. Sour grapes for Microsoft.

        Here is an excerpt fron an article in Feb. 2002 that tells how Microsoft does track customers but does not want them to know:

        "WASHINGTON — Microsoft's new version of its popular Media Player software is logging the songs and movies that customers play.

        The company said Wednesday it was changing its privacy statement to notify customers about the technology after inquiries from the Associated Press.

        The system creates a list on each computer that could be a treasure for marketing companies, lawyers or others. Microsoft says it has no plans to sell the data collected by Media Player 8, which comes free with the Windows XP operating system.

        "If you're watching DVDs you don't want your wife to know about, you might not want to give her your password," said David Caulton, Microsoft's lead program manager for Windows Media.

        The new privacy policy was issued Wednesday.

        The media player has been bundled as a free addition to Windows for several years and allows users to play music CDs, DVD movies and digitally stored songs on their computers.

        When a CD is played, the player downloads the disc name and titles for each song from a Web site licensed by Microsoft. That information is stored on a small file on each computer in the latest version of the software.

        The new version released with Windows XP last fall also added the same technology for DVD movies.

        Microsoft's original privacy statement informed customers that they were downloading the information about CDs but never stated it was being stored in a log file on each computer.

        The new statement makes clear that information is being downloaded for both DVDs and CDs, but does not explain how users can eliminate or get into the log file.

        "It definitely could have been clearer and more specific about DVDs," Caulton said.

        There is no easy way to clear out the log, Microsoft said, without crippling Media Player. The only way to keep Media Player from going to the Microsoft site is to make the player think it is working without an Internet connection, which can be tedious if the user switches between watching DVDs and listening to Internet radio stations.

        As part of downloading the information about songs and movies from the Web site, the program also transmits an identifier number unique to each user on the computer. That creates the possibility that user habits could be tracked and sold for marketing purposes"


        One Microsoft official said in that article:

        "Jonathan Usher, another Windows Media executive, said Microsoft has no plans to market aggregate information about its customers' viewing habits, but would not rule it out."

        Now go here and read:

        How can Microsoft target ads without collecting your data?
        • Who is talking about Microsoft?

          You constantly bring up Microsoft in an effort to deflect anything from, well any topic you happen to be infecting.

          Pointing at someone else doesn't dismiss what Google is doing and Google has proven it is more than willing to break laws, trust and privacy settings to get what it wants.

          Furthermore you do nothing to dismiss the purpose of what ChromeOS is. A direct unobstructed pathway to watch any and everything a users does on their computer.

          None of your derailing or deflecting changes that.

          The fact is that Googles entire business model is set up to spy on users and monetize that in any fashion they can or want to.

          That is not the business model of any other company you want to drag down in effort to make excuses for how Google operates.

          It's not FUD if its true.

          ChromeOS is exactly what the NSA would develop as a tool to spy on users. Seeing how sloppy Google is at protecting their own networks, Google is effectively doing the work of spying for them.

          • you seem to ignore the fact that Google TOLD you that

            to start with, and Microsoft HID the fact from you.
          • Like how Google broke privacy laws?

            You can try to make all the apologies in the world for Google by trying to point fingers elsewhere, but it doesn't change what Google does.

            Their entire business is based on spying on its users. They have flat out said they do not believe in privacy and all information should be free. Heck, they don't even encrypt your usernames/passwords in Chrome.

            Microsoft and Apple come no where even close to what Google does. Not even close.
          • Or how Microsoft is still in litigation over corruption issues?

            Or still in trouble over copyright infringements?
            Or still in court over anti-trust issues?

            Google has FAR less convictions on illegal activity than Microsoft.

            Is Google perfect? no. But it does not hide what it does. Microsoft hides as much as possible.
  • Chromebook is too old school

    Maybe Chromebook would have stood out against Netbooks, but now it is just old, limited, and useless with peripherals. It should have came out prior to tablets and hybrids. Too late now.
    Sean Foley
    • Depends if you need a keyboard ..

      ... because that's where it scores over tablets.

      Compare it with laptops and netbooks, and it wins, Every time.
      • You missed where Sean said hybrids

        as they do come with keyboards... and touch screens.

        Chromebook is a solution looking for a problem to solve.
        • Actually Chromebooks solves the problem

          of complexity and solves it well as was pointed out in the article, rendering your point moot.
          • What complexity?

            Removing functionality and user control is what we have come to call a problem?

            Dumbing something down to a virtual playpen so it does "most" of what a user needs is now a benefit?

            Take a Chromebook, put any popular version of Linux on it.

            What are the benefits of Chromebook again?
          • Aren't you talking about Windows???

            Dumbing things down until it is a worthless piece of crap...
  • Exactly right David

    There's plenty of room in the marketplace for multiple OSs. Diversity is good and allows consumers to purchase what meets their needs. We'll never go back to the days when there was one OS everyone used by default. People have become much more tech savvy over the last thirty years and they're comfortable now with multiple OSs, one OS for work, one OS for their tablet and another OS for the phone.
    • What diversity?

      Chromebooks are one of the worst cases of lock-in I've ever seen outside of Apple. It's just another silo. Like it or not, Windows is one of the most open platforms in existence.
      • Lock-in?? Huh?

        First they argue "you can't do anything on a ChromeBook that you can't do on a Windows PC", then they argue "ChromeBooks lock you in". You just can't have it both ways.

        Every doc/ss/prez I create/edit/etc. on a ChromeBook, i can walk over to a Windows PC and continue editing it on - or import it into Word/Excel/PP and work on it. How exactly is that lock-in?
        • The lock in he speaks of

          Is the one Google wants you to have. They don't care what OS you use as long as you use their services. Every doc/ss/prez that you create/edit/etch on GDocs will help get them magical ad revenue. This isn't horrible, but don't pretend that every company doesn't want you to be locked into their products.
          Michael Alan Goff
    • Tech Savvy?

      @FrankInKy : I'm not sure I agree that "people have become much more tech savvy over the last thirty years... " I think a good case could be made that despite the proliferation of devices and operating systems, the average consumer has become less tech savvy, and doesn't understand the differences between operating systems (doesn't even know what an operating system is).

      This is an unavoidable consequence of better user interfaces, more automated setups, the web, and more interconnectivity. But, go outside the basics (in other words, experience a problem), and most consumers are clueless as to how to fix the situation — other than taking their computer to the Best Buy Geek Squad or an Apple Store for a "genius" to diagnose the problem.

      Chromebooks are not perfect (they are still computers, and Chrome OS is still young and relatively immature), but they are much easier to keep going than Windows, or even OS X.

      Like browns_fan, if I had to advise a relative on getting a new computer, and if I thought their needs would be met by a Chromebook, and especially if I knew that I would be their support lifeline, a Chromebook would be my first recommendation. Some people can screw up anything, but with a Chromebook, as Gewirtz reports, you can be back in business in less than 15 minutes.
      • Not any more tech savvy

        Over the past thirty years, computers have become consumerized and generally easier for the "average" person to use. Because more people are *using* tech devices, it doesn't follow that they *understand* the technology or how to fix it when things go south.
        I know how to drive a car and I can explain the basic concepts of how it operates, but I have NO idea how to repair a modern vehicle. Would it be an accurate characterization to call me "car savvy"? No. Just because I can operate something, does *not* make me "savvy".