In May, I had the chance to attend Google's IO conference for developers. There's a lot of great things about the conference - lots of smart people attend, there's good and informative sessions, there's plenty of food, and all around a whole lot of geeky coolness. Additionally, they usually give out some pretty good devices. Last year we received android phones and Google TVs. This year they gave out an android tablet and promised all attendees a Chromebook. I just received my Samsung Series 5 Chromebook and wanted to share a couple of my initial impressions on this very interesting device.
Simply put, the Chromebook is exactly what it claims to be. It boots pretty quickly and goes straight to a Chrome browser. You do everything through web applications like Google Docs or Facebook. You can't install local applications, and it seems that the computer is essentially useless offline (I couldn't even log in without an internet connection.) But this is exactly what Google has been saying it would be.
I don't get the feeling that I will be using the computer much. The main issue for me is that I'm a web developer and I don't see any way to do web development on this type of device. There are some online IDEs like cloud9, but cloud9 feels more like a text editor with some coding features more than a development environment. Without that functionality, the device is pretty much useless to me.
I can see how it would be perfect in other environments. Schools and businesses, for example, might be great places for it. If students or employees are using mostly internal web applications and Word or Excel, they might be able to replace their company machines with the Chromebook. It really excels in those areas and offers some other very nice benefits in the areas of security and administration.
First, you don't need to worry about virus outbreaks with a Chromebook. There's not much there to get infected. It does run a version of Linux, so theoretically it could get hacked or infected, but the chances are extremely low. It doesn't seem to run any background services and it updates itself when you're online so any security issues could get patched pretty quickly. Also, none of your data is actually stored on the device. If someone stole it, they're not going to get away with your private files or company secrets. Sure, things might end up in the cache, but it's not the same as someone stealing your work laptop.
The administration area is one place where this machine really makes sense. You don't need to worry about people running different versions of software or what happens to their data when the hardware eventually fails. All the data is stored in the cloud and you can just give them a new Chromebook in the case of a hardware failure or loss. There's also a whole lot less configuration. Basically, turn it on and let users log in. It's an amazing idea that I would love to see put in place.
One big drawback for this Chromebook is the price. It costs as much as a regular laptop, but doesn't have all the functionality. A regular laptop can run a browser just as easy, but can also have local applications installed and connect to all your peripherals. I just don't see why someone would buy a Chromebook over a regular laptop if the price is the same.
Overall, the Chromebook is a good idea and I hope it works for Google. I don't think I'm in the target market, so I don't think I will be using one as my main workstation anytime soon. I can see it being useful in business and school. We'll just need to see how the market reacts to it.