Google’s Chromebook: Is it the Return of the Netbook?

Meet the Chromebook

The Chromebook line was announced yesterday during day two of the Google I/O ’11 conference. It’s not just one laptop, it’s a line of laptops that run on Google’s Chrome OS. Chrome OS, for those who don’t know, is a basic, cloud-based operating system. We’re still learning things about it, and we haven’t used it ourselves, but Google’s announcement did leave us with a few questions.


Back to the Netbook?

It starts at $399, not exactly a bargain for the kind of computer you are getting. Still, there are options for $28 per month per person for business and $20 per month per person for students. This includes hardware and software updates. This puts the price at about $240 per year, at least for those markets. That’s pricing similar to a netbook, but it’s not paid upfront. The rest of us will likely have to pay that $400 starting price for a computer that doesn’t have a whole lot of features. Many netbooks can be purchased for about $250.

The OS is cloud-based. It uses many of Google’s applications such as Gmail and Google Docs. All will have an offline mode. Applications can be purchased through the Chrome Web Store, which feels a lot like the App Store, and while we haven’t used it ourselves, it looks to be largely based on the Chrome Browser. What’s nice is that the software updates itself. No need for the user to worry about it. Of course a bad update could suck.


Is Less More?

The netbook model was very simple. Basic computers that could carry out simple tasks like email, internet and basic word processing. They aren’t workhorse computers, they are designed for very simple use, perhaps even as cheaper computers for younger kids. That seems like it may be what Google does with this affordable line of computers.


Less Is More

Tablet computing seems to show this. The iPad has been a huge success, and it’s mostly because it works for computer users who don’t want a complicated machine. It’s all touch-based. You check your email by touching a picture of an envelope. Everything is designed for simple use. The iPad has no hardware keyboard built-in, but it’s enough for what it does. Users typically just activate their iPad and the rest is just poking and sliding around with their fingers. Tablet computers seem to fill the niche that the netbook was meant for: The user who doesn’t need a powerful machine. They just want to check their email and update their Facebook status.

What Does this Mean for the Chromebook?

The Chromebook may just be seen as another laptop. If Google aims this machine at schools, they may have something. Students use computers, but not everyone can afford to pay $240 – $300 at one time. Still, it’s interesting to see Google go to something that feels more like the netbook model than the laptop model.

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