Why there are at least two great reasons to buy a Chromebook

Why there are at least two great reasons to buy a Chromebook

Summary: I manage a lot of gear, and it's nice once in a while to have a machine that doesn't automatically spawn to-do items.

TOPICS: Google

I spend about a third of my work day living in a browser. I spend mornings alternating between managing incoming mail and doing my morning reading, which also often involves postings to various social networks.

My browser is Chrome. I moved to it back in January and haven't looked back. I've come to rely on a wide range of Chrome extensions, some of which I documented in one of my earlier Chrome articles and some of which I've since discovered and come to rely upon as much as the original set.

I'm telling you this in response to an article by my esteemed colleague Larry Seltzer, entitled "Why there's no good reason to buy a Chromebook". Having recently purchased Chromebook I find myself disagreeing with Larry. I wrote about some of my thoughts on this regard a few weeks ago in "The Chromebook, Windows RT, and the Officebook that might have been".

He makes good points, and there is no doubt the Chromebook is more of a niche product than, say, an iPad. But to say there are absolutely zero good reasons might mislead people who can, in fact, benefit from a Chromebook.

Larry draws a very cool Venn diagram in which he identifies two main vectors: the Windows/Mac vector (including Windows tablets) and the iOS/Android tablet vector.

His main premise is this: "There's nothing you can do with a Chromebook that you can't do with a Windows laptop running Chrome." And, in fact, he is correct.


Chromebooks are cheap. Really cheap. Mine cost $239. Sure, you can get cheap PCs for about $350, but they're very, very low-end and not nearly as svelte as my tiny MacBook Air-sized Chromebook. You can't get a MacBook Air-sized Ultrabook for anything near $239.

So, if you want a very small and light Windows laptop, be prepared to pay more. Quite a lot more.

Second, though, is this. Getting set up and running on my new Chromebook took five minutes. Period.

I turned it on, logged into my Google account, and all my bookmarks and Chrome extensions were there. I could go to work (and, in fact, did) in far less time than it's taking me to write this article.

My iPad and even my Nexus 7 couldn't do that. While both run Chrome, they run a mobile edition, so my extensions aren't available and my bookmarks aren't in the same place as my work machine.

Worse, because the iPad and Nexus don't run all the typical browser extensions (Flash comes to mind), I can't get into the learning management system for school and can't grade or correspond with students.

Tablets don't let me do my morning reading or grading nearly as smoothly as the Chromebook. Oh, and did I mention that even the Nexus 7 costs more than a Chromebook?

As for PCs, when have you ever been up and running perfectly on a PC in less than five minutes? More to the point, when has a PC just worked without a lot of futzing and setup. And don't you Mac people start mouthing off. I just wasted a weekend dealing with Mavericks and I'm far from the only cranky person on that score.

More to the point, inside PCs tablets are PCs. And as James Kendrick eloquently points out this morning, they are subject to the "Frowny Face of Death".

I haven't had to run Windows Update on my Chromebook. I haven't had to wait on a reboot. I haven't had to fight iOS. I haven't had to wonder why I can't access a Web site. I haven't had to try to reinvent my daily working pattern because all my browser are gone. I haven't had to tweak or modify or even install Chrome. And I haven't had to deal with a Frowny Face of Death.

Did I mention this thing cost $239?

In summary, there are definitely reasons to get a Chromebook. Price is certainly one reason. A second reason is compatible access to the PC or Mac browsing experience without the fuss of managing a PC or a Mac. I manage a lot of gear, and it's nice once in a while to have a machine that doesn't automatically spawn to-do items.

Does the Chromebook replace the PC? Of course not. I've been detailing my attempt to build a monster hybrid Mac/Windows machine and I need all of that capability for the rest of my work day.

Does the Chromebook replace my Nexus 7 or my iPad? Of course not. I'm not going to read the Chromebook while sitting in the throne room, and it won't fit under the teleprompter screen like the iPad. That said, I do use the Chromebook far more than I use the iPad -- but that makes sense because I live so much of my time in the browser.

So there you are. The Chromebook does fill a niche, but there are also good reasons to buy it compared to other devices.

P.S. My ZDNet colleague Andrew Brust points out that the Microsoft Office Web apps work great on his Chromebook, so you get one other very nice benefit in a very inexpensive and easy-to-maintain machine.

Topic: 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.

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
  • huh

    Farther down the front page of ZDNet is an article that says there is NO good reason to buy a Chromebook. Nice management by the editor. At least if you want to pander to all things do it on separate days.
    • It does say this is in response to that article

      In paragraph 3.

      Surely it's a bonus that the writers are able to express their views not 'the party line'?

      At the end of the day unless you walk into pc world and say 'i want the cheapest computer you do', all hardware out there can do what 99% of people use it for - browsing, emailing, youtubing facebooking... After that its all personal preference anyway from the color to the size to the logo on the lid - why not get more than one opinion with your cheerios?
      • debate is healthy

        People disagree about these things so why not have different people make the arguments and then the reader decides?
        • I've been disappointed to Chrome-browser & multimedia...

          ...with especially Youtube-videos not even opening (while no problems at all with Firefox showing those same videos).

          And how about Dropbox and mov-videos? With Chrome i can't watch them at all. With Firefox those same mov-videos are running perfectly. What the heck has Google done with Chrome-browser? Some memory bug there?
          Napoleon XIV
    • yes but

      this is in reply to that .. though .. isn't it
  • Article: "I haven't had to wonder why I can't access a Web site"

    Clearly, none of the web sites you frequent require the Java web browser plug-in. While that is a good thing, not everyone has that same luxury.

    Chrome OS does not include the Java plug-in. Nor can one install it.

    Merely an FYI. Because I've read that some online learning sites DO require Java.

    My experience is that there is no single web browser that is optimal for all of the web sites I visit. Thus, I will not purchase a device that limits me to the default web browser (or a single rendering engine). This means that Chrome OS, iOS, Windows RT and Firefox OS are out.

    P.S. Anyone considering buying a Chromebook (or Chromebox) should first install Google's Chrome browser on their PC and use it for awhile to ensure that their web sites of interest will be both accessible and functional.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Chromebook Missing Feature

    The Ability to run Android apps. If Google sorts that out then they have a killer for the price.
    Alan Smithie
    • But that defeats the purpose of Chromebooks

      the ability of Google to funnel everyone to their sites, their products.

      If you can run an app, why do you need Google docs, or whatever?
      • Actually, no

        Google's core services in Android are a major distinguishing factor for Open Handset Alliance-manufactured devices versus devices which use Android Open Source Project (AOSP) Android such as Amazon's Kindle Fire HD tablets.

        Another example, with AOSP-based CyanogenMod, one has a choice whether or not to install Google Apps (assuming that they are available for one's device):

        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • here you go

        Alan Smithie
  • Hmmm...

    My PCs generally work fine. And when I install Chrome on them, they get the bookmarks etc. In fact, on my work system, I have to stop it from synching because my personal bookmarks aren't appropriate for my work system.

    As for cheap PCs.. you're kind of moving the goalposts a bit. If you bought a $350 PC, then JUST installed Chrome on it and set it to launch on startup, you'd have a Chromebook. You CAN install more on the PC, but you CAN'T on a Chromebook - so keep the comparison equivalent.

    Otherwise your complaint is like 'Sure, my all terrain vehicle can do everything my SmartCar can but it keeps getting stuck in the mud when I go offroad, so clearly the SmartCar is better!"
    The Werewolf!
    • That's actually a great analogy...

      Comparing a Chromebook to a Windows laptop is like comparing an econo-car to a 4WD SUV.

      You can go a lot more places in the SUV, but for many folks sometimes all you need is a cheap little car that's good for the drive across town.
      • Actually, it is more like comparing

        ... the cheapest vehicle from Tata Motors with a mid-range BMW.
      • remote desktop

        If you install chrome remoter desktop then you can turn your econo-car into a 4WD SUV anytime you want to. Your 4WD SUV becomes an icon that you can click on and use anytime you need to use it. Always waiting in the background and ready at a moments notice.
        • PC upgrade

          There used to be a computer called "The Brick". It was about the size of a brick and you carried it from home to the office, where you would have another monitor, keyboard and mouse waiting to plug into it.

          This was over 20 years ago.

          I'd like to see a board that when plugged into a Chromebook would turn it into a full fledged Windows laptop whenever you need one.
          Bill Cousert
    • well there's a point to that

      I mean who needs a big terrain veh that you only use to travel to/from work ???

      what I need is a fast little motor that does what I want, when I want, as I trave to/fro work,
    • your comparison is the one that moves the goal posts...

      yes you can do more (as in more options) with a $240 windows netbook than you can with a $240 chromebook. but a $240 windows netbook is a piece of shit that can't even load 2 webpages simultaneously without bogging down a system to a point of un-usability. the chromebook does what it does extremely quickly and efficiently compared to a similarly priced windows machine.
      • in order to have a windows machine that can computer

        on par with a chromebook, you will be spending over $500.
        • gah! auto correct

          computer -> compute
  • Did I mention this thing cost $239?

    What a sheep. Apparently when prices come down to a ridiculous level the editors mind turns off and his hand automatically swipes the credit card for the purchase.

    I bet the farm that a big quantity of Chromebooks get neglected sooner than later because their owners come to realize that the "steal" actually is indeed a steal. Though it's the buyer who is the victim because all he gets is a self propelled otherwise free browser.

    Read : "The Emperors new clothes."