Put Chromebooks in proper context: This is not a joke

Paul Thurrott called Chromebooks a joke. Andy Wolber begs to differ and suggests there's a broader context to consider.

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. No Photoshop.

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 problems.

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.

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