There has been a storm brewing on the Internet and it seems like no matter where you look, the cloud looms.
Cloud computing has been heralded as the future by many tech types, but aside from a few services utilizing the technology, there aren’t many experiences out there that take the idea of the cloud to its limit. In that sense, Chromebook is certainly a glimpse into the future.
Simply put, Chromebook is the Internet and nothing but. Google’s philosophy is pretty simple: most of the time spent on computers is on the Internet, and once all our data is stored in the cloud, everything we need will be accessible on the web. So why be bogged down by an operating system when the Internet is what you want, anyway?
Chromebook wants users to move away from storing data locally on personal hard drives and instead upload everything to the cloud. Rather than open up a media program to listen to your Foghat MP3s, they will have been uploaded to Google Music and are available on any device that can log into a Google account.
I tested the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook and at first glance, it’s a very pretty piece of technology. It comes in black and white (we can’t seem to get away from that, can we?), sports modest dimensions (about 11” diagonal; smaller than a laptop, larger than a netbook), and keeps its weight under seven pounds. Thanks to the 16gb solid state hard drive, the machine boots in less than 10 seconds (really!) and awakes from sleep instantly.
This model comes in two flavors: wifi only and wifi + 3G (courtesy of Verizon Wireless). The latter will run you $70 more. One wonders with the rollout of 4G networks how useful it will be down the line. Then again, the Chromebook seems like a transient device designed to ease people into a world where computers are completely web-based.
The operating system is nothing like Windows or Mac, and to the uninitiated, will appear simply as a web browser. Taking out the typical ephemera of operating systems and throwing in a fast browser does make the Chromebook experience snappy. You can click and move around the Internet with impressive speed. The combination of the Chrome browser with the Chromium OS in the Chromebook offers an intensely pure Google experience, which Android fans also have in a phone like the Nexus S. Systems designed almost entirely by Google benefit from not having other stuff in the way.
Since this is an entirely web-based system, there are no firmware updates, no service packs, no antivirus software; all that is taken care of automatically by Google. If you want to install software onto the machine, you’re out of luck. Chromebook can only use applications that are available on the Internet.
This is Chromebook’s most important feature and it is also the hardest one to sign on for. Living a life completely on the Internet means that if it’s not on the net, you can’t do it. If you want to edit photos you will have to upload them to a web app, edit them, then download again into another web app. If you receive a series of .rar files to open, you won’t be able to because those are not compatible. While Chromebook lionizes the possibilities of the Internet, it also reveals just how limited a web-only experience is.
Of course, it could be that Chromebook is just far ahead of its time. Just playing around with it, one can imagine that in 15 years, none of our information will be stored locally. If I wanted to record a song, I would simply use the Garageband web application. I’d store all my data in the cloud so that I could access it from any of my home computers, my Android phone, a friend’s laptop or a Chromebook.
It certainly seems like Google’s main idea with the Chromebook is to demonstrate a philosophy; the philosophy that the world is moving into the cloud, and though we aren’t there yet, Chromebook is what the future will look like. After seeing Google’s vision, it’s hard to argue against that.