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The Chromebook: Ready for the Web, Not Ready to Replace Your PC

ChromebookThe Chromebook is ready for the Web, but is the Web ready for the Chromebook? This is the fundamental question you must ask yourself before deciding to fork over $400 to $500 dollars for one of the new Google Chrome-powered notebook computers, available as of today. The Chromebook, with initial hardware coming from manufacturers like Samsung and Acer, is a vision of the future of computing where everything is done online, in a Web browser. The operating system it runs has no desktop, no way to install apps to a hard drive and no local folders to store all your personal files. It is a Web browser, and just a Web browser.

And it is pure Google.


Samsung’s Chromebook: Google’s Vision of the Future


The most remarkable thing about the Chromebook is not a sum of its parts, its specs, the hardware or even the features of the Chrome browser itself. It’s the vision. For Google, the future of computing is all Web, or, in current parlance, it’s all “cloud.” In Google’s vision, an “app” runs in the Web browser, which, in this case, means Google’s browser, Chrome.

…Vs. Apple’s Vision with iCloud

For Google, Chrome OS appears, at first glance, to be quite a different vision from Apple’s new offering called iCloud. With iCloud, Apple has released its interpretation of what Microsoft has been promising for years: “software plus services,” a term that refers to the way cloud computing is used to augment and enhance desktop or native software, as opposed to fully replacing it.

In a recent op-ed on BusinessInsider, writer Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry calls iCloud a “humiliation” for Microsoft, as Apple took the same concept Microsoft had in place and executed it properly. That opinion is probably a little premature – Apple failed once with MobileMe, an expensive online service that never gained traction among Apple’s legion of fans, even earning a mea culpa from Steve Jobs himself this month. And it has also yet to be seen how robust and stable iCloud will be when so many of Apple’s users are upgraded by way of iOS 5, the company’s new mobile operating system. And it’s unclear if iCloud might grow beyond what we’ve seen so far – there are rumors that it, too, will include Web applications in the future to complement the current strategy.

Finally, there’s the argument that Apple’s vision and Google’s are not so different in the sense that “it’s all software,” as Apple insider John Gruber puts it. He recently argued that while Google uses client-side applications written in JavaScript to deliver rich Web apps like Gmail, Apple uses native code (Cocoa and Cocoa Touch) on iOS devices and Macs. But later he clarified there is a difference – one vision can reach many via the Web (Google users) while others reach a different audience – those with a device in hand (Apple users).

Chromebook, the Concept PC

However, as far as visions go, Apple’s makes sense for where we are now. Cloud computing can make native software better, but the cloud replacing all your software isn’t quite “there” yet. It’s notable that both tech giants Microsoft and Apple share the former belief about the cloud, while Google thinks otherwise, at least when it comes to the Chromebook.

Google, however, unlike Apple and Microsoft, doesn’t need to build a profitable business off its cloud computing vision in this particular case.  Billions of dollars in revenue from search advertising gives the company room to experiment with far-off lofty ideas like a Chromebook computer that is “all Web.”

We wonder, though, does the everyday consumer understand that for $400-$500 they’re being sold a prototype OS ? And is this a future a consumer should embrace today?

Next Page: Is the Cloud Really Ready for This? Are You?

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