Take a look at picture on the left. Looks like a laptop, right? It is, but with a 21st century twist.
Google has reimagined the personal computer. The search giant's theory is that since we spend so much time online, why not design a device that harnesses the power of the Web. Good point, but possibly a fatal flaw.
Called the Chromebook, the laptop runs one software program–Google's Chrome web browser–relying on online applications, like Google Docs, Gmail and Picasa and lightweight web apps (similar to ones for smartphones) for its computing muscle. Since it has no internal hard drive, all your files are stored in the cloud.
Some of you may remember “dumb” terminals–computer screens and keyboards networked to mainframes. Without the connection, though, the terminal was useless, just a putty-colored paperweight. How will the Chromebook function without Net access? Google claims to have devised a way to work offline using the features of HTML5. If you're technically inclined, here's a video that explains the process. How well it works remains to be seen, since Chromebooks won't be available for another month.
Leaving that question aside, the bigger issue is this: Do you feel comfortable giving Google control over your computing environment, the programs you use and access to all your data? In other words, how much can you trust them?
The recent outcry over location tracking with Android smartphones underscores the problem. With Chromebook, Google will have a record of everything users do. How will Google use it? Can they keep this data secure?Â Given the epidemic of hacking and data breaches, storing sensitive information online poses a serious risk.
With notebooks, netbooks, tablets and smartphones, there's no lack of mobile devices for working and playing on the go. So why is Google introducing yet another gadget?
Since the invention of the personal computer in the early 1980s, thereâ€™s been a battle for control of the desktop. The chief combatants, Microsoft and Apple, have reaped rich rewards from powering PCs. Now Google wants to cash in. Just as its Android operating system now controls 1 out of 3 smartphones, it wants to do the same with Chromebooks.
A great feature for non-technical types is that the messy task of updating and upgrading software will all be accomplished behind-the-scenes. Just leave it to Google. For the cost-conscious, there won't be new software to buy.
But all new technology comes with bugs. Google is a culture of engineers who aspire to automate everything. Although the company employs over 26,000, try reaching one of them on the phone for advice. If you need tech support, email or check out a message board.
Last year Google launched a new smartphone, the Nexus One. The Android operating system generally got good reviews; product support didn't. Early adapters howled their disapproval. Will Chromebook support be any better? Maybe.
The Chrome website indicates that you can schedule a phone appointment. How long it takes is anyone's guess. Are youÂ willing to wait for an appointment with a mission-critical task to complete? Personally, I want tech support NOW.
Finally, Google faces huge competition. Chromebooks will reportedly sell for around $500. For somewhat less, you can buy a netbook; for around the same price, a laptop or tablet PC. Will business and consumers embrace this new product? Will you?