A couple days ago, I explained why I was passing my Google Chrome Notebook on to my wife. It was a grand experiment and also a way to make sure that when I used my computer I wasn't still logged in to her Facebook account. It's been less than a week, but my technophobic wife completely surprised me when, from day one, she genuinely liked her new computer.
"It's easy," she explained. "It does exactly what I need it to and it takes me exactly where I need to go. I like how you set up a little button for my email."
I can't take credit for the Gmail icon that appears in the default browser window. It's just a link to your default account with which most Chrome users will be familiar. However, for a person whose only reasons to get online are email, Facebook, and the occasional bit of research, shopping, or homework help for the kids, it's a nice approach.
For her, it was always a struggle just to find the browser. "What do I use again? Foxfire? Chrome?" It wasn't as if she was looking Adobe InDesign. She just wanted to get online. With Chrome OS, of course, you are online. That's the whole point. Open the notebook, enter your password if necessary, and you're there.
Although Chrome OS allows you to open multiple windows and Alt-Tab between them, it's far more subtle than in other full-featured operating systems. Never again will I hear my wife asking what happened to the Internet when she accidentally minimizes a browser window. There is no "minimize" in Chrome OS. Why would there be? It's not as if you need to close a few windows to get to your desktop and find the shortcut to Word.
My wife isn't stupid. She can organize a week's schedule for a family of 7 in 10 minutes, with every bill, appointment, and school assignment due date committed to memory. All of that utterly practical stuff upon which the kids and I completely rely to make sure we leave the house when we're supposed to and to keep anyone from turning off our electricity leaves little room for (as far as she is concerned) silly little things like what browser she should use or what the difference is between an operating system, an application, and the Internet.
She just needs to get online to check our banking, email the piano teacher, or email me a reminder that I have a haircut at 2:30. For her, the Chrome notebook is precisely the sort of appliance she needs. An actual operating system just gets in the way.
I have to say I was surprised. It's the rare bit of technology to which my wife adapts well. In fact, the only other device we have that she finds indispensable is our Roomba vacuuming robot. Like the Chrome Notebook, though, it does one thing and it does it remarkably well. Push a button on the robot and it vacuums your house. Simple as that (seriously, the little robots really do work - ours is finally dying after 2 years of hard, daily use and she's horrified).
She wasn't horrified, but she was at least distressed when I needed to use the Chromebook the other day. It's easy and intuitive enough that she not only likes it, but now wants nothing to do with the 10 other computers that float around our house.
I have to hand it to Google. The Chromebook is great for those of us who spend most of our time in the cloud. It's even better suited to people who spend most of their time in the cloud but have no idea what that means. Will it take off? I hope so, but most of the folks like my wife aren't married to tech bloggers who get early reference designs of Google hardware. Google will need to learn to reach them directly.
It can take some cues from the success of Android, but a computer is a different beast from a phone. Consumers don't associate phones with operating systems like they do with computers. There's a reason that your average Joe doesn't run to Best Buy and head for the Linux aisle. We'll see if Google can overcome that barrier to entry so that all those people like my wife can experience Chrome OS joy too.