Chromebooks Take Us Closest So Far to a Post-PC Era

2011-05-29 SNAG-00I believe the coming of the Chromebook is the nearest we will come in the next months to the so-called post-PC era. Many scoff at the Chromebook as being already superceded by the tablet, indeed we are seeing the term crapbook becoming popular, but I beg to differ.

Apple luddites keep up the mantra of the iPad leading us into a post-PC world. I love my iPad but it definitely is not a PC replacement but most certainly is a PC-extender and, for that matter, an iPhone-extender. My iPad is integrated into my daily life at times and places where neither a PC or phone are useful devices. But as I have noted before the iPad is not a laptop replacement, and is only a first step towards a post-PC era.

Most definitions of a post-PC era, like Sarah Rotman Epps of Forrester, point out strongly that we are not talking about PC replacement. She emphasises the obvious post-PC transitions; stationary to ubiquitous with anytime/anywhere computing; formal to casual with instant-on devices; arms-length to intimate with always-with-us devices; and, abstracted to physical with touch and gestures.

Laptops and/or desktops will continue to be our motherships with sales over the next few years still predicted to continue at present levels although rate of increase will almost certainly decline. But what Google are now sensibly calling Chromebooks are the nearest I’ve seen yet to a viable, genuine PC replacement, provided we are willing to work only with cloud-based apps and data.

My earliest post about working online was over 3 years ago. Since then I have been lobbying for working in the cloud to become the norm as more and more viable cloud services become available to replace native apps on desktops/laptops. Even native smartphone apps that allow us to be creative must use a cloud backend to store the objects of creation in order to be useful.

You can read the persuasive overview of Chromebooks from Google but for working effectively post-PC the key features for me are:

  1. laptop form factor with productive keyboard and mouse editing; on smartphones/tablets swipe scroll and pinch zoom are great for navigation but poor for editing large bodies of text; even tapping for selection needs finger-sized buttons/links
  2. Chromebook independence; access your private app, documents and settings from literally any Chromebook; allows secure sharing of physical laptops
  3. forever fresh; this Google slogan is my favourite; Chrome OS, browser and apps are always the latest version – no tethering to update a myriad apps; no old versions to become a security risk
  4. potentially improved security; browsers bring the advantage of a security sandbox in any case; this now extends to the whole machine
  5. USB and SD device support and limited but recognisable local filestore; starts to match expectations we have for PCs

Chromebooks match tablets with Wi-Fi/3G support for being always connected, with the same battery life, and with an 8-second boot time and instant resume.

One of the first questions people ask is ‘can I turn my existing laptop/netbook into a Chromebook?’ I would answer no since points 2 through 4 above are not supported on existing hardware. Chromebooks are definitely a new class of device although on the surface they look like compact laptops or large netbooks.

Of course I admit I haven’t handled or used a Chromebook, and in Australia it looks like I have still a few months to wait beyond the 15 June release in the US and major European countries. I comment here on the concepts only. Provided Chromebooks perform as expected I suggest they will soon become devices of choice for individuals, businesses and educational institutions.

[As an aside I used Scrible for the first time to collect and assemble material for this post and have been impressed by my increase in productivity.]

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About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

2 Responses to Chromebooks Take Us Closest So Far to a Post-PC Era

  1. Doug Holton says:

    I like the idea of chromebooks, too, although it seems like if you trained students and teachers how to maintain and take care of their netbooks (have students be the IT), you could also save money.
    And the chromebooks at $20 a month for 3 years adds up to $720 (I know that includes support), when you can own your own netbook outright for as little as $200 with options such as this one:
    http://www.engadget.com/2011/05/30/asus-brings-out-extra-skinny-eee-pc-x101-running-meego-hands-on/

    I think you will be able to run Chrome OS on a laptop or netbook (you can just run it off a usb flash drive or sd card, too). I already installed the Chromium OS once on a netbook but it was still buggy. See http://chromeos.hexxeh.net/

  2. Michael Rees says:

    Yes, Chromebooks are somewhat expensive compared to 12″ netbooks, but I think the total elimination of maintenance and upgrade tasks is a very valuable commodity. I am continually amazed how poorly students, even my IT students, perform at maintenance and upgrade of Windows/OSX/Linux even with institutional help available. I am sure Chrome OS will be available for standard netbooks but inevitably it will be a substandard user experience.

    That said the EeePC X101 Macbook Air for $200 with Meego will certainly be on my shopping list.

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