Stuck in the cloud with Google's Chrome OS notebook

The Chrome OS notebook could be a contender if Google adds offline access -- and the amazing free wireless data plan is really part of the deal

Four years ago InfoWorld published a tale of cloud woe in which our intrepid guinea pig, Oliver Rist, spent a week without Microsoft Office, forced instead to use Google Apps, Zoho, and a couple of other browser-based productivity suites. The experience left him ... traumatized.

Well, that was then. For the past few days I've kept my boring old ThinkPad zipped in its bag and relied entirely on a prototype Google Chrome notebook running a beta of the Chrome OS, which basically means I've been living in the Chrome browser and running Google Apps. My slim little four-pound Chrome notebook is a true Web appliance -- a browser in a box. I couldn't "compute locally" if I wanted to.

[ Also on InfoWorld: See Galen Gruman's first look for a deeper view of Google's Chrome OS, the prototype laptop, and the current state of Google Apps. | Read Paul Krill's report on the Chrome Web Store. | Stay up on the cloud with InfoWorld's Cloud Computing Report newsletter. ]

All in all, I've had a much better time than Oliver did, whose distress came mainly from being at the mercy of random Wi-Fi connections as he wandered from client to client in his consulting job. If only reliable 3G had been widely available -- and free! -- four years ago. Perhaps the most amazing detail about the Google Chrome notebook is the 3G Verizon Wireless deal that comes with it: 100MB per month at no cost for two years.

The great Google-Verizon giveaway

I should hasten to add that Google will not confirm anything about the data plan that will come with Chrome notebooks when they ship next year. On the reference model I'm using right now, there it is in black and white: 100MB for free (and affordable plans starting at $9.99 beyond that).

Assuming the Verizon deal is for real, then the carrier will surely be a Chrome notebook vendor as well, just like you can buy netbooks from Verizon now. (That really, really makes me wonder how much Chrome notebooks will cost, but Google won't say.)

What a way to outfit mobile workers! They wouldn't even need to pay for hotel Wi-Fi. Here's your notebook, folks, just no YouTube or you're fired. Although, streaming video or not, it would be hard for salespeople to view presentations and stay under that 100MB limit.

You have to wonder about Verizon Wireless' motivations. For years, one of the cellular carrier's two parent companies, Verizon, has been making aggressive moves into cloud hosting for business. Is this Google deal part of some major Verizon business play?

There's just one problem, of course: the little matter of air travel. I don't know about you, but I do my best work on a tray table. Unless Google and Verizon Wireless also have deals going with all the major airlines, the inability to compute offline is a showstopper for mobile workers.

Always connected -- or else

The way I see it, the Chrome notebook is a device that ideology built. Google thinks you should be computing in the cloud, period. You can access a few system settings, but aside from caching, that's it for anything local. Your computing life hangs on Wi-Fi or 3G.

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