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 second Chromebook

Last month, my wife needed to go out of town to tend to a 80-year-old sick relative who was starting to have difficulty managing her affairs. Part of the work Denise was going to do was help the relative catch up on financial affairs and make sure bills were being paid while in the hospital.

My wife didn't want to bring her favorite Ultrabook because she didn't want to expose it to the relatively rough-and-tumble environment of a hospital and care facility. She'd seen me with my Chromebook and wanted one for herself.

It was cheap enough, so we ordered one. When it came, my wife easily set it up. After all, it's just a matter of booting up, connecting to the network, and logging in.

Denise found the Chromebook very convenient to use, it connected to all the financial services she needed to work with, and Chrome was the Chrome she was familiar with at home.

Once again, it just worked.

Our third Chromebook

Last week, Denise took another trip to visit our relative. This time, the elderly woman was home from the hospital, which made everyone very happy. Unfortunately, something had happened to her Windows laptop and it wouldn't boot up.

While our relative wasn't up to managing financial affairs, she still wanted to keep in touch with family and friends, write, use her Gmail account, keep her calendar, and more.

Denise is a pretty sophisticated PC user, but she's not a technician. Although she's installed RAM and drives into machines, she doesn't really have the technical chops to field strip a broken laptop in the field and set it back to rights.

She thought about going out and buying our relative a new Windows laptop. Our relative was familiar with XP and Windows 7, but had never seen Windows 8. Denise didn't have the time to go through the Windows setup and update dance I described above, train our relative on Windows 8, buy and install Start8, and all the rest. It just wasn't practical.

On the other hand, Denise had her Chromebook. There was an easy answer. It took five minutes to power wash the thing, another five minutes to log our relative into her Google accounts, and they were up and running.

Denise left that Chromebook with our relative, and her replacement machine arrived on Monday. That's the third Chromebook I mentioned above. All told, transferring the machine to a new owner, configuring it to that owner, and setting up a replacement machine for Denise took 15 minutes. Total.

Chromebooks are for civilians

Now look, there's no way I'm going to stop using Windows machines. I'm writing this on one now. Tablets are also here to stay, but they're not laptops. Sure, you can add a keyboard and simulate a laptop, but that starts to both get pricey and fiddly.

By contrast, the Chromebook is drop-dead-simple. Five minutes and it's up and running. It's inexpensive. It's small, light, and easy to carry. It's the tried-and-true laptop form-factor with a keyboard and good-size display.

For people who don't need all that Windows has to offer, for those who live in their browsers, Gmail, Facebook, and such, for those who write simple documents and need simple spreadsheets or presentations, for those who just need to get something done quickly and easily, the Chromebook is an ideal choice.

But it wasn't until I realized how viable the suggestion of "just give her your Chromebook" was that it became clear. It was far more practical to recommend the Chromebook. A process, that for Windows, would have been fraught with all sorts of issues and fuss was an instant no-brainer with the Chromebook.

That brings us to this milestone. I am now recommending Chromebooks instead of Windows laptops for civilians. That's got to be a worry for Microsoft.

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".