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

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The Web is not good enough to be your information center
But there's more reason why the Chromebook is a concept you should not waste your money on. For one, online access is uncertain -- both its availability and its quality. If you're a traveler, Wi-Fi charges will rack up fast at airports, Starbucks, and hotels. And the free Verizon Wireless 3G access that comes with one of Samsung's Chromebooks is a laughable 100MB a month -- a teaser amount if I ever heard one. You'll quickly be shelling out real money for 3G data access; after all, Chromebooks can't do anything put play a cached version of Angry Birds (once you've loaded it over the air, of course) without a connection. If those promised services ever appear, streaming music and video would break the bank. Photos too will be data hogs as you move them from online photo services to your Chromebook each time you want to view them or work on them.

Plus, do you really want all your personal information stored in the cloud? Or have access to your data dependent on securing a reliable data connection and the money to keep its meter running?

If you use a Chromebook only in Wi-Fi hotspots, such as at home and at the office, the meter won't be running, so the Chromebook is more plausible in terms of reliable connectivity. But then you are, ironically, tethered to your wireless networks. It's a brick elsewhere, while all your data is in the cloud, even if just as a waystation from other computers.

Then there are the contextual activities we take for granted, but don't exist in the Chrome OS world. For example, forget about printing -- you need a Windows PC on a network to be a waystation to your printer unless you're one of the few people with an ePrint-capable Wi-Fi printer. Also, don't even consider syncing to your iPod; there's no way to connect to iTunes. Or to your BlackBerry, Droid, Zune, or other media devices. (Apple's forthcoming iOS 5 will let its devices work without a computer, so ironically they may be the only realistic companion devices for a Chromebook.)

Welcome to life with only a browser.

The browser-in-a-box is not good enough to be your computer
The Chromebooks are touted as simpler, cheaper devices that you can afford to lose, both because they're not costly and because they contain no data or apps. Thus, their hardware is quite primitive, per Google's specs. That keeps battery life comparable to that of an iPad, and it restricts the weight to three or four pounds. You can use a mouse or external USB keyboard, as well as acccess some external storage via what are essentially FTP windows.

This may sound great for a company that doesn't want to buy computers or maintain them. But what are the chances that they can rely solely on Google Docs and similar services? Very small. Better to use VDI technology with real computers or even simple netbooting of "dumb terminal" Macs over the network. The cost wil be higher than using Chromebooks as wireless dumb terminals, but they'll actually be able to do the work.

For the rest of us, the Chromebooks lack Bluetooth, so you can't use wireless peripherals, which are gaining in popularity. You also can't use Bluetooth headsets for apps such as Skype or media players -- but given the communications issue I've cited, using Skype and digital media probably isn't realistic on Chromebooks anyhow.

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