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Elgan: Why Chromebooks will fail

Mike Elgan, Computerworld | May 14, 2011
Chromebooks, the Web-based laptops announced by Google, are supposed to take the complexity out of managing computers for consumers and businesses. Columnist Mike Elgan says they are best for neither.

If consumers actually wanted browser-only computing, they would simply do browser-only computing. Nothing stops anyone from buying a $350 15-inch laptop at Walmart, downloading the Chrome browser and then doing all of their computing tasks inside Chrome.

Nobody does that because it's unappealing. People like to install applications, and they will do so if they can.

People who want to replace their "flawed" Windows PCs have an alternative that's superior to Chromebooks: namely, the app model invented by Apple for the iOS, and used by Google Android, HP's TouchPad and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook. App-based touch tablets solve the "torture" problem Brin highlighted, without the problems inherent in cloud-only computing.

And I'll just come right out and say it: Chromebooks are ugly. The hardware is ugly, and the Web is ugly, for the most part.

Thanks to the iPad, consumers have come to expect devices that are aesthetically beautiful, graphically appealing and fun. The Chromebook promises only drab utilitarianism. App-based touch tablets will be more popular for consumers than Chromebooks for the same reason that American Idol is more popular than C-SPAN.


Why Chromebooks aren't best for business

Yes, Windows PCs "torture" users. But so does the cloud.

Browsers aren't perfectly secure and reliable, and neither are Internet connections or websites.

Personally, I use three browsers: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer. I do this because each browser has its own limitations and problems. I've been struggling with the most recent version of Firefox -- it crashes and does other weird things. So I've been using Chrome more as an alternative. But Chrome doesn't have my needed Firefox plug-ins. And it doesn't support RSS. I use each for different tasks. But when I hit a brick wall with both, I use Internet Explorer as my browser of last resort.

Chromebooks wouldn't give you this choice. If Google releases a flawed update, you're stuck with it. If it breaks your plug-ins, too bad. If it doesn't support your favorite website, tough luck.

Besides, if Chrome is so great, why doesn't Google use Android on it?

Internet connections can have problems, too. Both 3G and Wi-Fi have their own sets of challenges. Mobile broadband connections don't connect in many locations. Home Wi-Fi routers can stop working. Of course, these things also happen with regular PCs. And Google is working hard to enable offline browsing. But when my connection is down with a PC, at least I can still use all my applications and files.


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