Most of us spend more and more time each day in our browsers. We’ve dropped email clients for Gmail, write in Tumblr and WordPress more than Word, tweak pictures in Photoshop.com and Aviary, and more. YouTube and Netflix are the default place most people go to watch videos, and when you need to find something in a book, chances are you can find it in Google Books. The browser has taken over our computing life, and thanks to the recent speed improvements in browsers that was spearheaded by the Google Chrome team with V8, many web apps now feel nearly as fluid as native applications.
With all the advancements, though, are you ready to use just your browser with no other native apps? Google seems to think the computing world is ready to shift to using only web apps, and has turned their Chrome browser into a full Linux-powered operating system. The new Chromebooks will be ready to hit the shelves this summer, so let’s see what Chrome OS has to offer.
A Browser, and Only a Browser
Nearly 2 years ago, Google announced plans to turn Chrome into a full operating system that would let you use web apps, and nothing else. Then, last year, Google began test-driving Chrome OS with a pilot project that gave away their experimental Cr-48 netbooks to hundreds of users around the world. This week at the Google I/O Conference, the Chrome team finally announced the final result of their labors: Chromebooks. This is a somewhat radical concept for most consumers, so the Chrome team put together a great video to explain what Chromebooks are all about.
Chromebooks are specially designed netbooks will run Chrome OS, which will make them unique computing devices designed entirely around the browser. Instead of Chrome being yet another app on your computer, in Chromebooks, Chrome is the app to end all apps. You’ll boot the netbook in 8 seconds or less, sign in with your Google account, and all of your Chrome passwords and apps will be automatically synced.
Just like in Chrome on your computer, Chromebooks will automatically download and install updates to the browser. Chrome OS goes one step beyond that and verifies that your Chrome OS image hasn’t been tampered with, to ensure that your browsing experience is always secure. Best of all, it’ll work just like Chrome on your Mac or Windows computer, so if you’re already using Chrome, you’ll be ready to run in seconds.
Netbooks With a Purpose
Netbooks have long been stigmatized as under-powered laptops that aren’t great for most tasks. Google’s upped the amp with Chromebooks, making them more powerful than many standard netbooks while shipping them with stripped down software that will run blindingly fast. Standard Chromebooks will ship with an 11-12″ screen, dual-core Atom N570 processor, 2Gb ram, 8hr. battery, and a 16Gb SSD drive. Unfortunately, that also means they’ll cost around $400 like most netbooks, though Google is also offering them for around $30 per month to businesses and schools, depending on the model. Still, that’s not much cheaper than many computers today, so it may be hard to convince consumers of the value of a computer that only runs a browser.
Chromebooks will include standard WiFi as you’d expect, but some models will also include Verizon 3G wireless modems. Interestingly enough, Chromebooks will come with 100Mb of free cellular data per month, so you can use it online anytime similar to a Kindle. That’s one feature that might make some people find Chromebooks more interesting. If you’d like, you can already check out a full selection of Chromebooks on Amazon to see if there’s one you like. The build quality and design of Chromebooks look nice so far, and it will be very interesting to see the in real-life use.
While you won’t be able to install Photoshop, Microsoft Office, or many popular games on your Chromebook, you can use Photoshop.com, Google Docs or Microsoft’s Office Live, and can play any online game you already play in your browser. Farmville fanatics won’t have to miss their farms for even a minute. Even the ever-popular Angry Birds is now a Chrome Webapp, available for free in the Chrome Web Store.
The biggest problem is, most web apps currently only work when you’re online. That is set to change now, thanks to new offline capabilities that have been added to HTML5 in Chrome and other modern browsers. Google and its partners announced that many popular web apps will work offline. Springpad and Angry Birds, along with many other games and apps, while Google will be adding offline features to Gmail, Google Docs, and more over the summer. This will make Chromebooks much more useful when you’re flying or somewhere else where you don’t have internet access.
So, is a Chromebook the computer for you? I personally use web apps all day long. Google Apps, Simplenote, Flow, Twitter, Campfire, Instapaper, CloudApp, and numerous WordPress installs are the main apps I use, and so it would seem like a Chromebook would be perfect for my workflow. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m ready to give up native apps, though. Even for those looking for a full computing experience change, it seems like today’s Android tablets and the iPad offer a more compelling computing experience.
That said, it always seems like web developers keep amazing us at what they can do. We’ve always been excited about web apps since they offer a cross-platform experience that you rarely get with native apps. Newer web apps like Flow feel almost like native desktop apps, and browser based games get better all the time. With that, it seems like Chromebooks could be a viable full computing option in the future. I’d still prefer to have a Windows, Ubuntu, or OS X computer today, but since 90% of my day is in Chrome on one of those already, a Chromebook could possibly make the cut.
What do you think? Are you ready to buy one on day-one? Let us know your thoughts on Chromebooks and the future of the browser as an OS in the comments!