If you’re not a follower of Google and internet technology, you probably haven’t heard much about Google’s recent jump into the world of laptop computing. When you first see a Chromebook, it doesn’t really look any different from any of the slick new laptops of the summer save the Google Chrome logo on the case, and for the most part it’s not radically different from a hardware standpoint. Flat screen, thin profile and a minimalist modern design fitting of any high end laptop (think Apple, Dell, ect.) are all great design elements but in no way revolutionary. That’s okay though, because it’s not the hardware of a Chromebook that is the game changer, it’s the software.
In a traditional laptop computer, the actual computer itself is what makes it special whether it’s a high resolution monitor, tons of RAM or a really fast processor. But in a Chromebook it’s the software, or lack thereof, that makes it stand out. You see, unlike a traditional laptop computer there is nothing to install once you pull it out of the box. You don’t have to load Microsoft Office, or download web browsers or photo editing software. You don’t have to do hours of lengthy updates and constantly check to make sure your antivirus software is up to date. None of the usual time and expenses associated with a computer apply to Chromebooks because their software is fundamentally different in one very significant way: The operating system and software add-ons are all hosted on the internet and designed to interface with the cloud rather than being installed and maintained on the computer itself. It’s a pretty big deal.
Now if you’re not a computer science major, this might not mean a lot to your right off the bat, but let me explain a bit more why this is significant. Until now, there wasn’t really a standard for operating systems. Microsoft Windows is obviously the most popular OS on the market, but there are others like Apple and Linux and now with the widespread popularity of tablets and smartphones there are even more operating systems such as Android, Blackberry OS and iOS. This meant that software manufacturers had to choose one OS and develop for that system or spend extra time and money developing multiple versions of their software to work on multiple operating systems, which can be quite a headache and doesn’t guarantee that a file created on one OS will transfer seamlessly to another even when using compatible software. This causes software to be more expensive, harder to work with and ultimately requires more of the computer running the software. This is how personal computing has been since pretty much the beginning, with software being designed to run on a particular system. The one exception to this rule when it comes to different operating systems is the internet. There are slight variations from browser to browser (although the advance of web standards is making that a thing of the past) when looking at a website but for the most part, the Internet is exactly the same regardless of what operating system you’re using and the only factor that causes variation is screen size and connection speed. This is important because it means that the internet is the only real common ground among the myriad of devices and operating systems that have now flooded the market. For this reason many new tech companies and software developers and changing their model and focusing on delivering their content and/or services through the internet in order to make one piece of software accessible to all devices. Facebook is Facebook, Hulu is Hulu and Google is Google regardless of what type of computer you’re using.
When designing the Chromebook and the Chrome OS that would run on it, Google took into account the fact that the vast majority what people do on their computer takes place on the internet. Most people use their web browser more than every other application on their PC (or Mac, not a hater) combined and there are a lot of people that use their computer ONLY for internet and nothing else. This is significant in that they are all using machines that are built to do many things, for just one thing. It’s the equivalent of buying a 72-piece Swiss Army Knife just to get the toothpick. And for those people who do use other programs aside from their web browsers, for the most part it is productivity software like Microsoft Word or Outlook, almost all of which can be found online these days. Basically, 99% of what people use their computer for today can be done online using a web browser, so Google decided to cut out the 99% you don’t need and focus on delivering that 1% you actually use, as smoothly as possible. Enter the Chromebook.
A Chromebook is a laptop like computer, and like a laptop is has an operating system. Google tooks it’s ultra fast and high-tech web browser, Chrome, and built it out into a full fledged operating system. However, unlike Windows and OSX it is not meant to run installed software and instead it runs only web applications. Long story short it is the most full-featured, advanced web browser ever built and has a dedicated machine designed just to run it. When you open the Chromebook, it comes on in a matter of seconds without having to go through a lengthy boot period where many layers of software all have to load and start working and instead takes you straight to the web. They’ve cut out all the in-between steps that separate you from the internet and in doing so started a revolution.
Once can argue that since the inception of the smartphone this revolution has been underway, but no product has come along yet and embraced the web quite like the Chromebook. Chromebook is a computer built solely for productivity on the web and because it’s operating system and software are hosted entirely on the web, there is no need to go out and purchase expensive software, updates are handled automatically behind the scenes and the problem of viruses and spyware are all but marginalized. Chromebook takes all the unnecessary parts of a laptop, including a lot of the slow and bulky software, and cuts them out completely. There is very little you can’t do on the web today and nine out of ten working professionals would have no problem switching to a Chromebook. I work online every day, and in Los Angeles web design can be a tricky industry that requires you to be both mobile and connected at all hours of the day and night and a Chromebook is the perfect companion for a web developer on the go!
Now of course there is still a need for more robust computers and operating systems in the case of people who will use a lot of heavy software like Photoshop or any audio or video editing software, but innovations in cloud computing and data transmission will ultimately make the use of even the most computationally intense programs a reality for the web. In the mean time, anyone who uses their computer to check email, log in to Facebook and occasionally draft a word document would be well advised to investigate the ease of use and modest price tag of a Chromebook and do away with 90 second boot times and bulky work machines. The web is the future, and the future is here now!