By: +David Herron; Date: Sun Oct 29 2017 20:59:52 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)
Even though Chromebooks have been on the market for several years, many still view them with suspicion. Chrome is just a web browser, so how could it be a useable operating system for a laptop computer? Or, the price is so low, how could these computers be any good? Or, Chromebooks are what my kid uses at school, how could they be any good for any serious computing? Or, Chromewhats?
There are many reasons to be skeptical of Chromebooks and therefore be leery of buying one. Chromebooks will not satisfy every purpose, but then there's no computer that does so. Chromebooks fill a certain target area very well, while traditional laptop computers fill a different target area very well, and tablet computers fill another target area very well. A Chromebook makes a lot of sense for some people, and no sense for others.
The very first Chromebooks were very limited. The processors were weak, memory was short, and storage almost nonexistent. Together that made for an inexpensive computer that still provided the usefulness of browsing the web with an almost-instant-on experience where you open the lid and the Chromebook is ready to go.
Todays Chromebooks are another thing entirely. They have larger screens, good quality cases and keyboards and displays, plenty of memory, and plenty of storage.
Who are Chromebooks good for?
Chromebooks work great for those of us who are primarily accessing information/services/applications ON the Web. Web-based services are getting ever-more-capable, meaning we could be spending more and more time in web browsers rather than in desktop applications. For a huge portion of folks the web browsing experience is all that's needed and the Chromebook is an excellent choice.
Even those of us who NEED desktop applications have moments when our needs are modest. Maybe we develop software and are running databases and other services inside Docker containers or inside a virtual machine. Or we're editing video. Or we really and truly need Microsoft Word or page layout software. But do we need those things every moment of every day? If we're on a trip, or lounging on the couch, do we take the big heavy laptop?
Google has done an excellent job of locking down the security of a Chromebook. We can't say they're 100% secure, but thing like Virus's are extremely extremely difficult to propogate into a Chromebook. The primary UI is a web browser so of course you can be fooled into doing insecure things, just like you can through a web browser on any other computer. But you can rest well knowing that generally speaking these things are extremely safe.
The targeted niche
It fits in between tablet computers and regular laptops. Typical Chromebooks are lighter than regular laptops, and have the advantage of coming with a keyboard. How many tablet computers are in a case containing a keyboard? The person who does that could be well served by a Chromebook.
Google Applications and Services
Google made sure the Google services (Google Docs, etc) are front-and-center. This gives you e-mail, calendars, scheduling, a full office suite (Docs, Sheets, Drawings, etc), and more. There's a big range of tasks you can accomplish with a Chromebook and those services. Google Drive based folders are right there to act as an easy-to-use cloud-based file storage. For more on applications, see the No Applications section below.
Do you have multiple Google accounts? It's easy with a Chromebook to use multiple Google accounts. You log into one at a time, and each has its own customizations.
For example a seemingly small thing is the shared bookmarks bar. Using the Chrome browser on both Chromebook and Desktop, and logging into the same account on both, the bookmarks bar is automatically shared between Chromebook and Desktop. That bookmarks bar is per-Google-account. Each Google Account has its own bookmarks bar in Chrome, meaning you can set up each to the needs of that account.
Of course it's not just the Bookmarks bar, but everything else you access via a Google account. Such as Google+ connections, or YouTube subscriptions/history, or Blogger blogs, and so on.
Instant-on user experience
How long does it take a regular laptop to become usable? 2 minutes? 3 minutes? On a Chromebook that time can be just a few seconds.
The close-the-lid-and-walk-away experience works great on Chromebooks. When it's time to use it again, you just open the lid and a few seconds later it's ready to go. Even a freshly booted Chromebook is ready to go in 10-20 seconds or less.
The Chromebook genre is a lightweight computer, with low power CPU and little memory, because the user only needs to browse the web. They're not editing video or other heavy computation tasks, and therefore don't need gobs of memory or the latest processor.
You may have noticed The Web is getting more complex every year. That means more is required of web browsers to give a good user experience. Which means that even a lightweight computer like a Chromebook will need ever-beefier processors to keep up with the Web. Chromebooks with Core i5 or whatever processors have been available for some time. The typical memory is now 4 Gigabytes (or more) when 2 Gigabytes was previously typical. Storage space is growing as well, especially now that Android applications are entering the scene and Chromebook users are starting to have an honest need for more storage.
It's just a web browser, how can you install any applications? Thing is that applications are available, just not the sort we're accustomed to. You don't buy a packaged application delivered on CD-ROM or DVD to run on a Chromebook, but that doesn't mean applications aren't available.
First thing is that the modern web is filling up with websites offering applications running on the website. Where on a Mac you you might use Mail.app to read e-mail, on the web you would use Gmail. And it's more than that.
- Pixlr is a very fine image editor that's made by Autodesk, a leading company in graphics design.
- Draw.io is a very fine flowchart/diagram editing application
- Canva is a very fine graphics creation system
- Inoreader is a very fine application to scan the latest news
- Kindle Cloud Reader is a very fine application to read books online
- Trello is a very fine application to keep track of tasks
There are plenty more such as the Google Drive/Docs/Sheets/etc family of applications, and the Zoho business applications. The point is that web browsers aren't just for browsing websites, since more and more applications are running ON the web IN web browsers.
In other words - a Chromebook doesn't need to install applications. Simply by offering a top-notch web browser experience, Chromebooks act as a portal to the growing number of online applications that run on websites.
There is an AppStore on Chromebooks to browse the available applications, and there are quite a large number available. Some of them are even good.
Lastly, Android applications are coming. This portends the ability to access the large number of high quality applications written for Android phones and tablets. Some Chromebooks are of the two-in-one design meaning the screen can flip around letting you use the thing like a tablet computer, and a couple even come with Stylus's letting you draw on the screen.