Google Chromebook Forecast: Cloudy With a Chance of Sunshine

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Will Google power your next notebook?

The search engine giant this week released its answer to Microsoft Windows or Apple Macintosh: The first Chromebooks, stripped-down notebooks running the Google Chrome operating system -- a radical computing rethinking that require Web access for the complete experience.

And like a 56K modem, the launch didn’t go smoothly.

Acer, one of two initial hardware partners, delayed the release of its more aggressively priced model for unknown reasons. And Samsung’s Series 5 Chromebook met mixed reviews. Praised for its speed, simplicity and elegance, the new entry in the laptop market was also criticized for being expensive -- and useless without an Internet hook  up.

“Despite solid hardware, great battery life, and fast start-up, we can't recommend [Chromebooks] until and unless Google improves the experience,” concluded CNET editor Joshua Goldman.

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So are Chromebooks dead on arrival? Not at all, according to technology analyst Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies. “It’s more of a metaphor for computing than immediate revolution,” Bajarin told, referring to Google’s radical approach of designing a sleek computer that can only run a single program: a web browser.

“Most experts believe everything will move to web-based computing (i.e. the cloud), even Microsoft and Apple, so Google is taking the lead here,” Bajarin said.

Despite the false start, there are some immediate advantages to Chromebooks. They’re as fast as tablets, more secure than laptops, and a whole lot cheaper than Macbook Airs. In that sense, Chromebooks are a promising compromise of existing technology.

A new segment even, according to Bajarin.

And definitively unlike any other PC you've used.

Google's new OS assumes you’re always in your browser -- which is the access point for most of your files anyway, right? Web pages, e-mails, documents on Google Docs, photos stored at Flickr, video chats, streaming music from Pandora ... most of what you do is online, isn't it? Skip the traditional desktop and save time, simplicity and memory, Google argues.

Because it doesn’t load a bunch of background stuff, Chrome OS boots almost instantly. Chrome OS boots in 7 seconds or less -- significantly faster than the traditional operating systems from Microsoft and Apple.

But web-based machines like Chromebooks will take off only on two conditions, Bajarin said. “So much of what we do today depends on software, and much of that software hasn’t migrated to the cloud yet,” he maintains.

In other words, until Photoshop, video editing and other popular specialized applications are made available, fewer people will reach for Chromebooks than Google would like. But it’ll get there, Bajarin added. “Not tomorrow, not next year — but it’s coming.”

Second, the $350-500 price tag of the first few Chromebooks isn’t exactly what consumers were hoping for. “It’s gonna be tough for people to digest those prices,” Bajarin told, “but they will come down quickly.”

However consumers ultimately respond to Chromebooks, at least Google is eating its own dog food. In May, co-founder Sergey Brin said he hopes to have the majority of all 26,000 employees on Chrome OS -- whether Chromebooks or the still unreleased Chromebox desktops.

“I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with Windows,” the billionaire said at the time. “But I think the complexity of managing your computer is a flawed model fundamentally."

"Chromebooks are a new model that doesn’t put the burden of managing the computer on yourself," he said.

Blake Snow is a freelance journalist, media consultant, and part-time Chromebook user. He lives along the Wasatch Mountains with his family.