Google Chromebook lacks luster -- and purpose

Samsung Chromebook Series 5 3G brings ho-hum hardware to the half-baked Chrome OS

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All in all, the Samsung Series 5 is an average-quality netbook with a large screen and a higher-than-average price tag, while Chrome OS itself feels more like a proof-of-concept project whose time has not yet come. As a browser terminal it functions well, but for everything else it falls short -- and despite all Google's cheerleading, for most users that simply won't be enough.

Google Chromebook at a glance


Bottom line
Web and Internet supportChrome is a good browser, and it works with most websites, but not all. Some sites still block it because it's not Firefox or IE. Chrome also can do Flash (though you're beholden to Google to keep you up to date, which it doesn't do), but it can't do ActiveX, Silverlight, Java, or any other plug-ins. Chrome extensions aren't as versatile as Firefox add-ons, either.
Business connectivityFine if what you have are Web-based apps. Lousy if you need anything else -- including connecting to Windows or Mac OS X shares, exchanging files with people (you need to upload them somewhere before they can be used), printing, and connecting via any means that doesn't involve a Web browser (such as Skype). Although some L2TP/IPSec VPN support is built in, it's not obvious how to get at it and it's still considered experimental. Google Docs works OK, as do the Microsoft Office Web Apps, but neither is within shouting distance of the real Microsoft Office suite.
Application supportSee Web and Internet support, then draw a line through anything else. The Chrome extensions Google calls "apps" aren't much more than demos. Carrying over from business connectivity, file format support is nonexistent, including Zip files. (My Android tablet lets me browse the contents of Zip files seamlessly, but the Chromebook doesn't even know what they are.) If you can do it on the Web, Chrome OS can probably do it -- but the world where you can do everything on the Web just isn't here yet.
Security and managementPretty good. It really is impossible to get a virus or other malware on Chrome OS. Management lets you set up the browser how you like via a central console. The controls are not as fine-grained as some might like (there are whitelists and blacklists, but you can't choose settings on a per-site basis), but the Web browser security landscape is hardly as complicated as that of a full-blown OS.
UsabilityGood, for what it can do. It's just a Web browser, after all. But as I was playing around with it, I found myself repeatedly doing Google searches on how you could do this or that with a Chromebook, and I repeatedly came up with keyboard shortcuts or settings that weren't documented anywhere. There's no manual. In general, not being able to do things you're used to doing and having to find a work-around will be frustrating to most users. And I wish the touchpad supported gestures; it's like a big, dumb, one-button mouse.
HardwareIt's a netbook: not a lot of ports, no expansion capability, average build quality. The keyboard and screen could be better, but the screen is at least bigger than those in most notebooks. Battery life is really pretty good.

This article, "Google Chromebook lacks luster -- and purpose," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest news in mobile technology and read Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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