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Going fully online: Part 1. Biting the Chrome OS bullet

This is part 1 of what I hope will be a fruitful journey online. I’m throwing out the specialised computing hardware (Macs in my case) and forcing myself to be online only. No more hard drives, local folders and application upgrades for me. Everything’s going online or it’s not going anywhere at all. My new computer is an HP Chromebook and over the coming weeks I’ll update you on how I’m enjoying my new surroundings. N.B. neither Google or HP is in any way sponsoring or supporting this series.

First some background.

Chrome OS (as most readers will know) is one of Google’s long term bets on the future of what we used to call personal computing. It’s an operating system (OS) which simply supports Web standards like HTML5, JavaScript and CSS (cascading style sheets). Google looks after the core software and its partners build different versions of the hardware and have been doing so for a couple of years now.

So why? Why does the world need another operating system?

It doesn’t, but there might be room for an “un-operating system” because Chrome OS (and the Chromebooks and Chromeboxes that use it ) are not about supporting personal computing as we’ve all come to know it. They’re mostly about supporting communications and media consumption from the Internet easily and cheaply.

Here’s the concept. Chrome OS is designed to support relatively new and different sets of users who see the technology sitting between them and the Internet as very much a means to an end.

So instead of a full-blown operating system like iOS, Windows or Linux, it’s assumed that they just want something through which they can handle email, access Facebook, monitor Twitter, download from YouTube and watch TV. What they would rather do without is a requirement to defrag hard drives, update applications and operating systems, carry their computer around in a stout shoulder bag (because it weighs half a ton), and charge it up every couple of hours because it gobbles power like a small fan heater.

On that basis they might choose a tablet of course, but the Chromebook theoretically has two advantages over the tablet. It has a conventional keyboard which many of us still prefer because we do a lot of inputting. And, because it doesn’t have a touch screen and doesn’t need to devote as much processor-power to running native apps, it should also be cheaper on a like-for-like basis. A ‘good’ tablet will cost about twice as much as the HP Chromebook I’ve just purchased.

The advantages of the Chromebook concept also include: a slick cloud software arrangement with the service provider (in this case Google) to enable automatic updating of the software on ‘boot-up’; light weight and long battery life; simplicity and (for that reason) simplified support so that it can offer low ‘cost of ownership’ in corporate and educational environments; and cloud storage (100 gigabytes free with the unit) and thus fully sync’d operation… more on this in a later installment.

Looking forward, as the concept takes root the Chromebook should enjoy improving support by web applications providers (it’s surprisingly good already, but there’s room for improvement) and I expect we’ll eventually see some compelling, high-powered virtualised applications where the Chrome OS platform does service as a thin client. Cloud computing, in other words.

That’s why Google, Samsung, Acer and HP all think there might be a market for the little beasts.

Why am I taking the plunge? I like the idea of being online with all my material and notes and URLs nestling in the cloud in some sort of order. Over 30 years I’ve probably had around 20 computers that I’ve called my own. Some of them lasted a few months, some of them lasted years; some of them died in harness, some were gently placed under the bed in retirement. All of them were a pain in the arse to change.

Life in the cloud where a computer death in family isn’t a disaster really appeals. New computer? I’ll simply open a new window, punch in my passwords and I’m back in business.

Next installment - How to embrace the cloud.

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