Google's Chromebook - lost in the cloud?

 

One of the first Google Chromebooks is made by Samsung, with other versions expected to be marketed later

It's the device which Google believes could change the face of computing. The Chromebook puts computing into the browser, where the device itself becomes less and less important because all of your data is stored in the cloud.

I've been trying one for the last couple of days - and my feeling is that it may be so far ahead of its time that it will struggle to find an audience.

The Chromebook I've been using is made by Samsung - other manufacturers are promising their own variants, but in the UK this is the first one to go on sale.

The good news is that it's an attractive looking laptop with a high-resolution screen which springs into action moments after you open the lid - no twiddling your thumbs while an old-fashioned operating system boots up.

Because here, the operating system is Chrome, Google's web browser. You immediately find yourself in a Chrome window, and open more tabs to get to more places. Great for browsing the web at speed - but what happens if I want to write a document?

Well that too has to happen in the browser window, probably in Google Docs. And where's the e-mail program? You'll need web-based mail - and you'll probably choose Gmail.

Your photos will have to be online - and Google will want you to choose Picasa for that, and your music will also be in the cloud, though unless you're in the United States you will have to choose an alternative to Google Music.

But what about the apps that you might need - from a Twitter client to a calendar to photo editing software? Well there is a limited range of apps which you can install and will pop up full screen, but if you want to do anything complex like video editing this would not be the machine for it.

And if you want to use something which isn't on the store, like Skype, it seems you're out of luck - your video chats will have to be through the rival Google service.

There is only limited storage - 16 GB - as the theory is you will be keeping everything on the cloud. I found it disconcerting to have no desktop, no obvious place where I could see my stuff.

And when I took the Chromebook onto the BBC Breakfast sofa this morning Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams asked me the question which will doubtless trouble many potential buyers - how safe is all my data in the cloud?

Later on, when I met the Google Chrome boss Sundar Pichai, he pointed out that we are all already keeping lots of data on the cloud without realising - that's where all our Facebook activities are, for instance.

But that doesn't mean we are all that comfortable with the idea, especially when the headlines are full of stories about data being hacked from supposedly secure outfits like Sony.

But the biggest issue with this "always on" device is that most of us aren't always on. Until internet connectivity is a lot better, there will always be times when we're offline. So, for instance, I was trying to read a Google document on the Chromebook on the way to meet Mr Pichai - but Google told me I was offline so I couldn't see it.

Now if I'd had the 3G version of Samsung's laptop I might have been better placed - and Sundar Pichai said Google was working to make several key applications available offline, including documents and Gmail.

Google, home of many of the world's smartest computer scientists, believes that the Chrome operating system on a lightweight connected device is an idea whose time has come. But what the firm seems to lack is a very precise idea of what consumers want, and what surprises and delights them.

A laptop, however nicely presented, looks outdated in an age where people looking to do a little light web surfing are now turning to tablet computers or smartphones.

In many ways, this is an idea ahead of its time but I'm afraid my final verdict is that the Chromebook is everything you ever wanted from a laptop - and a whole lot less.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

Can internet companies monitor terrorists?

Big tech firms, and in particular Facebook, are under pressure to become more active in the battle against terrorism. But what are their current arrangements?

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Rory

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 40.

    Google cloudprint and web aware printers from HP address the printing needs without requiring 200MB of stuff installing on the chromebook to run a printer.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 39.

    A lot of laptops never go outside their broadband / wifi equipped homes and don't do anything that the chromebook won't do either - and this will do it without the malware crises that plague windows machines.

    There are USB sockets and card readers on Chromebooks for those wanting more local data storage, it's full Linux under the hood so the potential for developers to fill the gaps is clear.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 38.

    From what I have read, one of the significant drawbacks with the Chromebook is that it can't print stuff to your local printer. You may not print a huge amount of stuff, but when you do, it's usually important. Like when using Google Maps to find your route to a new place you're visiting - a simple printout to carry with you is often the key thing!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 37.

    @#35

    Which is fine if there are applications through which I can work on those files offline. Correct me if I'm wrong, but mu understanding is that the ONLY applications I can access on the chromebook are online - short of running other apps off of a usb stick, which I believe someone else suggested.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 36.

    @#35

    Which is fine if there are applications installed which allow me to work with those files offline. Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that online apps i.e. googledocs are the only option available (short of sticking extra software on a usb and running from there as I think someone else suggested).

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 35.

    @ #34

    you do realise you can use a chromebook without a connection as well? use local storage for those live, active files youre working on and the cloud for file storage.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 34.

    @ #33

    "Lack of a connection? I wouldn't use my laptop without one on either"

    I would, and do. Admittedly that's often not by choice, but if I'm somewhere without a connection, or where I'm being charged a fortune for it then I want to be able to work on documents, look at photos, play games, all from the hard-drive (or USB). The key point is that with my standard laptop I can do that.


  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 33.

    Think people have missed the point.

    Everyone I know uses their laptop for the web, or documents. All is available on this, without the frustration of a slow laptop.

    The comments about school, I'm sure the systems they used in the schools I worked in were web based, which works on this. You can access Microsoft web apps too.

    Lack of a connection? I wouldn't use my laptop without one on either.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 32.

    @ #28 I don't think anyone is arguing that they don't use cloud technology - the question is do they ONLY use cloud technology, to which the answer for the majority is 'no'. Until the basic issue of cheap, reliable and constantly available connectivity is settled, then life totally in the cloud is just not an option for many of us.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 31.

    While cloud computing has its advantages, I still don't see great mass adoption yet. As humans, we want some kind of tangible asset to hold on to, hence why desktops/laptops sell. I think Chromebook, like the iPad, will be a supplement, but not a replacement in computing.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 30.

    We are performing all of our computing activity via web browser now ? err - don't think so ! There is also something very disturbing about the prospect of placing a profit-making corporation between yourself and all of your precious data.

    Not for me Im afraid !

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 29.

    Though in principle most casual users only need to access the web and apps through it, I feel this device is not that big a leap, especially for the price. Compare it to say, the Asus Transformer, which I own, and you can see the limitations. The Asus is still focused around a web based experience, but it also has some slimmed down apps for word and excel documents.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 28.

    your loss. whether you realise it or not cloud computing is the future.

    I guarantee you that you are already using cloud technology.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 27.

    If the price is right (less than £100) this is a major major winner.

    I suspect that it wont be, and manufacturers such as Samsung are just profiting from the google name. (Basically its a normal laptop at normal laptop prices).

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 26.

    You're right... I don't get it.... & I won't be getting it

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 25.

    I tried Google Chrome for all of two hours, & snapped back to my regular routine. Chrome knows there are plenty of issues; they have a list that you can check to see if Chrome is working on your problems in particular.The list of issues is disconcertingly long.
    My problem was crashes seconds after opening. Apparently my profile got corrupted. Not wanting to contribute to corruption, I reverted.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 24.

    i dont think half of you 'get' the chromebook.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 23.

    @ #7:

    well that wont matter as the chrome book has local storage anyway.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 22.

    @Andy Ward #2:

    "But as I do a lot of photo and video editing on my laptop I can't see this working for me soon"

    how is this NOT for you then? youd be using cloud based processing power? it would probably be the same, if not more power than you have currently?

    Except it would cost significantly less. and you wouldnt need to shell out for an upgrade.

    i dont get your comment.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 21.

    From the review I get the impression this is quite locked down to Google products, Docs, Picassa etc.

    Along with the Android lock down this is a worrying trend from Google. They need to cash in, but ending up as Microsoft 2 is a dangerous path.

 

Page 2 of 3

 

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.