Whatever you do, don't buy a Chromebook

Google's cloud-only Chrome OS vision is simply not baked, and it's not likely to ever to come together

The first Chromebooks, from Samsung and Acer, are finally starting to ship, after a six-month tease by Google for its foundational Chrome OS. (Samsung's white 3G model is now shippng, and its three other models and Acer's sole models are available for preorder.) Please, save youself $350 to $500 and avoid these cloud-only laptops. Spend your money on something you'll both use and enjoy, like an iPad 2 or Galaxy Tab 10.1. I write these words from a Chromebook, where my 802.11n network feels like it's traversing molasses when using Google Docs and other Internet service.

The sad truth is that the Chrome OS vision of all your computing occuring through the Internet is an unsatisfying reality. I've tried to be open to the idea and given the beta Chrome OS the benefit of doubt in its early versions. But as the ship date approached, I began to get nervous that Google couldn't take Chrome OS beyond being an awkward sub-OS.

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Now that we're at the point of Chromebook reality, I cannot in good conscience be generous. The Chromebook concept is a failure, as is the foundational "Webtone" idea that Google got from Sun Microsystems.

Simply put, I don't believe Chrome OS will ever get as good as a world of real apps that tap into the Internet but don't depend on it. The Web apps that run on Chromebooks' Chrome OS -- and they're the only apps that can -- are still primitive and not that capable. Google itself still doesn't have its Google Apps -- the key apps it expects every Chrome OS user to rely on -- yet working in offline mode. That was promised for March, and still it's MIA. Remember, this is Google: a company that has no trouble shipping apps before they're ready.

The Web is not good enough to be your app library
I've been using a beta Chromebook since they were first available in December 2010 and working regularly on an iPad and MacBook Pro, as well as testing most major tablets, trying out the Atrix Lapdock (a dockable smartphone), and dabbling in Windows 7 periodically. It's become quite clear that the Web is an insufficient venue to handle all your computing needs.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs was right when he ended the Web-app-only strategy of the iPhone after its first year and switched to an Internet-enhanced native apps model. I didn't have an iPhone back then (2007), so I didn't experience what early iPhone users went through in a Web app-only world. But the iPhone as we know it did not explode until the native apps came. For Chrome OS, we don't need to wait: Windows 7 and Mac OS X are here today, and they can run Web apps, too.

The Chrome OS Web apps, as I said, are primitive. If you've used Webmail, you know what I mean. Imagine if all your apps were like that. They just don't compare to the quality of "real" apps, whether on a tablet or computer. Google's own cloud services, such as Google Docs, are awkward on Chromebook -- even moreso than they are on a PC. If Google can't do Web apps well, don't expect anyone else to.

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