Paul Thurrott posted a piece recently titled “Assessing the Chromebook Threat to Windows“.
His subtitle conveys the attitude of the article, “Chromebooks are a joke,
but they benefit from good timing”.
And, from a certain perspective, I can see his point.
In a world of installed software, a Chromebook is
a joke. You can’t install (many) programs on it. The vast library of Windows
and Mac software doesn’t work on a Chromebook. No Microsoft Office. No Skype.
But you could view the Chromebook from an
entirely different perspective: that of someone whose applications and data
exist entirely in the cloud.
Thin for the win
Chromebook can be thought of as a “thin client”.
You authenticate to Google’s servers and access everything from there. Except
that “everything” actually means anything online.
In a world of software-as-a-service, a Chromebook provides a
great value. Turn it on, login, and you’re online. The time-to-task is minimal.
A Chromebook represent a “web-first” perspective
on computing. A Chromebook presumes that the network really is the computer, as
the old Sun Microsystems phrase suggested.
Chromebook users do lose some things, of course.
Chromebooks burden the user with as few system
administrator-type tasks as possible. Connect to WiFi. Reboot every now and
then to ensure you have the latest updates. That’s it. Time spent updating
apps, devices, and drivers is gone. For people who would rather not fiddle with
system maintenance tasks, that’s a good thing to lose.
More significantly, Chromebooks, unlike Windows or Mac
devices, aren’t intended to be general purpose computing devices, in the
classic sense of a computer that may be adapted by the user for any purpose.
Chromebooks aren’t designed to allow users to write and compile code that then
runs on the device. In that sense, Chromebooks are similar to iPads and Android
tablets: they’re systems designed for users, not computer hobbyists. For most
people, that’s also a good thing.
(Tech tinkerers persist, though. There are plenty of folks
that dual-boot Linux and Chrome OS on Chromebooks. And there are cloud-based
development environments, such as Cloud9.)
Bridging the gap
Finally, you might even think of the Chromebook as a
gap-bridging device. A Chromebook bridges the gap not from desktop to mobile,
but the other way ’round. It’s a great device for someone who is “mobile
first” that would benefit from using a keyboard and larger screen.
As users and organizations move applications and data to the
web, Chromebooks become more attractive. The user just needs a Chromebook and
Internet access: processing power and storage exist elsewhere.
I agree with Thurrott. It would be a joke to replace a
Windows system with a Chromebook. If a user needs installed Windows apps, a
Chromebook is the wrong tool.
But Windows devices and Chromebooks solve different
The issue isn’t the device. The issue, instead, is whether a
user’s needs can be met with web applications and services. If so, then it also
would be a joke to replace a Chromebook with a Windows system.
Google and Chromebook manufacturers are betting that the web
will be enough for many users. That’s not a joke. That’s a market. And I think
many people believe that’s where the world is heading.