Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chromebooks - A Brave New Clouded World

Since the announcement of Chrome OS in 2009 and the subsequent Cr-48 test in late 2010 I have been excited to see the possibilities and new direction of computing. My view of programs and the internet changed the day that test notebook showed up on my doorstep. The perception I grew up with further morphed when I received my Acer Chromebook yesterday.

I grew up and started using IBM/Ambra computers with Windows heavily around 1993, just as the internet was becoming consumer friendly courtesy of American Online. At that time everything was program driving; a program to get online, other chat programs, applications for spreadsheets, a compression program, etc. This became the norm. Every new computer bought would come with days of installs, uninstalls, and tweaks. The more you learned about computers and Windows the more you began to tweak settings to control the experience. This process over the years, often filled with problems, allowed me to learn a lot about computers and software.

The process became a welcomed challenge and part of the excitement when getting a new computer. Getting in there to see all the new things and perfecting your machine to run as fast and smooth as possible was fun. I realize this was not "fun" for many. Because computers were more expensive then, and with exponential growth being inherently slower in the early days, upgrading system hardware became part of the process as well. Adding an internal hard drive, wiring, RAM, video cards, and even changing the motherboard battery became common place.

The advent of economy priced laptops that do not need top of the line hardware for today's general user drastically change the field. Why update and upgrade hardware when I can just buy a new machine in under two years? I would assume a smaller amount of people growing up today, compared to when I did, have ever seen the inside of a computer. Software is all preinstalled now and has a much smoother and automated update processes because of always being online. Set it and forget!

Even with the advances in hardware and software there was still a need to spend a few hours with a new computer to confirm settings, perform baseline backups, remove unwanted software, tweak your startup, modify default services, etc. This time allowed you to bond with your machine. I went through this just last year when I picked up a new HP laptop. A bond is formed; you watch from the corner of your eye when other people use it and you update and tweak it insatiably.

Coinciding with my use of Windows machines this year I have been using the Cr-48 with Chrome OS. The use of the Chromebook and living in the cloud has drastically changed my computing behavior across all platforms. Perhaps this is Google's genius! When I use my Windows PC I now start the Chrome browser; that is it. I have no programs installed other than the ones needed for the computer to turn on; no Word, no Excel, no Instant Messenger, no Skype, no Spotify, no Outlook, etc. Everything I use is online and in "the cloud". The fact that the Chromebook changed my PC behavior is pretty powerful. You should have seen my face when Spotify finally came to the US and I learned I needed to install a program. An actually program on my computer? I was floored!

Everything is good right? Well... yes and no. When my the Acer came I fired it up, logged in, and I was done. All my settings, apps, and history where there. I was up and running in about two minutes. I felt a bit empty and no bond was formed with the device. The bond will form over time, but will not be the same. This is the future. It may be hard for my generation to switch over, but this is what the youngsters are growing up with today. Will they have the same real-life computer skills and thinking without going through the 90's? It is hard to tell.

I love Chrome OS and it does everything I need. The only true reason I have a Windows computer is because I work from home for my day job and the remote tools I need to use are not compatible with a Chromebook. I am not saying there is not a need for a full powered PC; there sure is for many things. Today, the average user can just buy a new Chromebook every year or two and have no need to tweak or install software and hardware. The same realizations are being made in conjunction with the iPad.

It's different out there!