Category Archives: Chromebook

Chromebooks are like iPads

Ben Thompson gets the Chromebook better than any one else, possibly because he uses a Chromebook Pixel himself:

In fact, the best comparison for a Chromebook is not a Windows PC, but an iPad. Both are appliance-like devices that are easy-to-use, impossible-to-break, and designed first and foremost for the experience, not the feature list. And, if you write like Dr. Drang and need multiple windows, a Chromebook is in fact superior to the iPad.

Spot on. Both Chromebook and iPad are examples of what I call “friction-free computing” – devices which remove the cruft and hassle of an old operating system, requiring little to no maintenance. What this class of device allows you to do is live in the applications you use to get stuff done, with the operating system getting out of the way.

Low end Chromebooks

Bloomberg:

Chromebooks have in just the past eight months snagged 20 percent to 25 percent of the U.S. market for laptops that cost less than $300, according to NPD Group Inc. The devices, which have a full keyboard and get regular software updates from Google, are the fastest-growing part of the PC industry based on price, NPD said.

I’m not surprised at the news that Chromebooks have grabbed up to a quarter of the US market for laptops under $300. If you’re spending that little, a Chromebook will give you a lot more performance for your money than something running Windows or even Linux [1].


  1. As will a tablet with a keyboard, although if you want the best one you’ll have to pay a little more.  ↩

Chromes OS, Android, and the future of Android apps

Sundar Pichai, who recently took over Android from Andy Rubin, pours some cold water on the “Chrome OS and Android to merge” rumours in this interview with Wired. But he does leave one door open:

” We want to do the right things at each stage, for users and developers. We are trying to find commonalities. On the browser layer, we share a lot of stuff. We will increasingly do more things like that. And maybe there’s a more synergistic answer down the line.”

Suppose that, rather than Android effectively subsuming Chrome, as most people seem to think will happen, Android got the ability to run Chrome Packaged Apps? What if Chrome Packaged Apps ultimately became the default way to develop for Android?

Java, which Android apps are currently developed in, has never felt like a good fit for Google – a company which spends much of its time evangelising the web and web technologies. Packaged apps deliver native-like capabilities and are installable, so you don’t need a constant Internet connection to run. Developers have already used Packaged Apps to create some pretty good games, which shows what can be done. 

I wouldn’t expect to see this at this year’s Google I/O… but next year? That sounds like a pretty Googly thing to do.

A Mac user’s view of the Chromebook Pixel

I’ve been a Mac user since 1986, and edited a Mac magazine for a couple of years. I’ve contributed to MacGasm, MacFormat, and pretty-much anything that has the word “Mac” in its title. I attended more Steve Jobs keynotes than is healthy, and suffered the epic 3 hour Gil Amelio keynote which reduced even the hardest-bitten hacks to weeping babies. If there is such a thing as Mac spurs, I’ve earned them.

But as a technology writer, I’ve also always kept an open mind about other options. I’ve used Windows in anger (back in the days when a tablet PC meant Tablet PC, not an iPad). I’ve had Android phones. I’ve used my own cash to buy Android tablets (and boy, did I regret that one).

And in the past couple of years, anyone that follows me will know that I’ve also long been interested in the Google’s Chromebook concept. The idea of a machine which reflects how I actually work (mostly online) is attractive. It’s secure, fast enough, and I never have to worry about where any of my data lives. Almost all the software that I use on a day-to-day basis is web-based, and my browser is the application I use most often. Sometimes two of them. Continue reading

Grumpy old men of tech redux

Trevor Pott, over at El Reg, makes an early entry into the “Doesn’t like this new-fangled world” competition with his piece on how “Netbooks were a GOOD thing and we threw them under a bus“. Pott’s demand of a machine – all-day battery life, a multi-tasking OS – aren’t outlandish, but his stalwart rejection of, basically, anything that isn’t a netbook running Linux marks him out as someone who really doesn’t understand the new world of “just works” computing.

Consider, for example, his rejection of the Chromebook as an option:

“Google could make Android a serious contender as a ‘good enough’ netbook OS in a very short timeframe. The web giant won’t because it views Android as its touch-based consumptive tablet and phone OS, and ChromeOS as the desktop replacement. ChromeOS is entirely reliant on internet connectivity and keeps you trapped into doing everything using SaaS apps; great for Google because it can ruthlessly invade your privacy in order to sell more advertisements. Bad for us because it cripples the OS in order to achieve this goal.”

Where to begin with this? Aside from the “ChromeOS is entirely reliant on internet connectivity” error (it’s not), saying that ChromeOS “keeps you trapped into doing everything using SaaS apps” is a bit like saying Windows “keeps you trapped into doing everything with Windows apps”. And there’s no compulsion on you to use Chromebooks with Google services: mine happily works with iCloud and Microsoft Online services (yes, including Office web apps). 

Using apps written with HTML/JavaScript isn’t lock in, particularly if you choose your software providers wisely. If you want data portability, choose a software company that provides easy ways out

And of course, the iPad also fits Pott’s bill… 

John Gruber’s faulty maths on ChromeOS

Daring Fireball Linked List: Acer and Chrome OS, Sitting in a Tree:

“Sounds like Chrome OS is starting to get some traction, but I do wonder if actual sales match the ‘shipments’. Looking at my stats here at DF, Chrome OS accounted for 0.04 percent of traffic over the last four weeks.”

I don’t think John has really thought this through. Even if ChromeOS devices had accounted for 10% of all computers sold in the last year (which no one would claim, as they’re not even available in many markets), that would still amount to a tiny proportion of the total number of installed computers worldwide. Neither shipments nor sales tell you the story of installed base, and installed base is what visitors to a site is a measure of.

As for the shipments/sales issue, I’d point to this tweet from a Dixons employee which states that in stores where they have “Chrome Zones” with Chromebooks on sale, they make up 10% of their notebook sales. That’s “sales”, not “shipments” – as in real people walking out of the door with them. 

Chromebook sales gaining momentum

Acer President: Windows 8 is “not successful” but Chrome notebooks are winners | Computerworld Blogs:

To make up for the disappointing sales of Windows 8 devices, Acer is looking elsewhere. And right now, it’s finding that Chrome has been surprisingly successful. Acer released Chrome notebooks for $199 in November, and Chrome now accounts for between 5 percent and 10 percent of Acer’s U.S. sales. It’s been so successful that Acer may roll it out to other developed markets.

Add this to the data point revealed by a Dixons/PC World employee a while ago which claimed that where they sell them, Chromebooks have made up around 10% of their laptop sales, and you begin to a see a picture that should be worrying to Microsoft. Chromebooks are essentially eating the low-end of what was the netbook market: Small, cheap, light computers with limited functionality. 

But unlike Windows-based netbooks, Chromebooks are much more secure, and they have the power of web apps. And unlike netbooks, they actually run web apps really well. 

With tablets – by which I mean the iPad, of course – eating the higher end of the netbook market and Chromebooks taking the lower ground, Microsoft really should have reason to worry. Windows 8 doesn’t seem like the answer, and if Windows 8 fails to gain momentum, it would be a massive blow to Microsoft. When even Windows a stalwart like HP is starting to make Chromebooks, things don’t look so good in Redmond. 

Computer security doesn’t have to be a binary state

Robert Atkins, on John Grubermissing the point” about the EFF’s “crystal prison” argument:

It’s a pity Richard Stallman is such a boor because he’s actually right about some things: if we aren’t vigilant, the general public will have its legal right to build and run arbitrary software on hardware they own eroded to the point where it’s impossible to do so legally.

What I think both John AND the EFF are missing is that this is not a black/white, either/or argument.

Chrome OS gets this right: you can’t install any executable on the machine at all, or tinker with the operating system in any way. It is, to all intents and purposes, arguably more locked down than iOS. Thanks to the inclusion of TPM, a Chromebook simply won’t run if so much as one byte of its OS code is changed.

But flip a hardware switch on the side, hidden behind a panel, and you have full access to everything. If you want to tinker, you can. But if you want a secure, safe machine you can have that, too.

Google Chrome for Android: No Flash

One notable thing about the new beta release of Chrome for Android: There’s no Flash installed. And what’s more, because of Adobe’s decision not to develop Flash for mobile further, there isn’t going to be any.

So much for those ads claiming Android ran “the whole web”.

Having said that, I’ve been playing with Chrome for Android this evening, and it’s really good. It’s finally brought the Android browsing experience up to the level of Safari on iOS, and in some areas surpassed it. The ability to instantly move from desktop browser to Android browser and get the same open tabs is really useful, too.

And one final thought: The appearance of Chrome on ARM makes it much more likely that ChromeOS will be moving that way too. And that means cheaper devices with longer battery life.

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