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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Plus, with the rare exception of ePrint models (which the iPad was supposed to popularize last October, but has failed to do so), you can't connect a printer except if you have a PC on all day acting as its print server and are willing to go through Google's very convoluted setup.

iPads and other tablets can't do some of these things, either, but they're not pretending to be an alternative to Windows and Mac OS X (a claim made by Google's executives when they formally announced Chrome OS last December). In addition, they work much better with apps, with easier work-arounds for wireless printing. They also work with Bluetooth to varying degrees.

This constrained hardware does simplify the Chromebooks. It also makes them commodity products for which the manufacturers can do little other than style the case, choose the keyboard and trackpad feel, and select the screen quality. They're basically just boxes. Samsung's Chromebooks are nice-looking boxes, a very strong copy of the Apple MacBook design, just as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is clearly a clone of the iPad's design. Acer's Chromebook looks like a generic Windows laptop.

Ths means that the real driver and innovator behind the Chromebook is and will be Google.

Can Google really deliver a polished product?
That worries me, and it should worry you. Google plays with lots of technologies, and it has a culture of releasing incomplete software, then dropping it suddenly. Google throws half-baked technology against the wall, hoping it will cook itself as it travels in the air or as it sticks on the surface. I know Google has spent years on Chrome OS, so this is not a whimsical product. But those years of invesment aren't apparent in the final result.

Worse, the Chromebooks are advertised as having the benefit of improving over time due to regular self-updates. That means they're not ready for prime time and you're paying to be a beta tester. Major OSes like Windows and Mac OS X get updates periodically, but what ships is considered a viable product in its own right -- not so with Chrome OS, just as it has not been so with Google Docs.

I'm tired of being told that half-baked is innovative. Thirty-plus years into the PC revolution, it's time to expect that products work well when they're sold for money. Apple has understood that, which is why it's the only PC maker to grow every quarter. Google doesn't.

The Chromebooks are an interesting but failed experiment, not a product.

Even if you would use the Chromebook as a secondary, supplemental device -- an adjunct to your PC or Mac -- you'll have to contend with all these issues. Frankly, a tablet is a better option to be such an adjunct: It fits both the Mac and PC environments better, it supports apps whether or not you have a wireless connection, and it's much easier to carry around.

Maybe the Chromebook has some appeal because it's both new and trying to do something different. Kudos to Google for that. But if you want to invest in innovative experimentation, go for an iPad 2 or one of the better Android tablets (a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or a Motorola Mobility Xoom); they're actual products, as well as innovators. Or just get a lightweight laptop -- a MacBook Air or a Windows ultralight -- so you have your computer and Web apps world, too.

Just don't buy a Chromebook.

This article, "Whatever you do, don't buy a Chromebook," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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