Why the Chromebook pundits are simply out of touch with reality

Two-Pixels

The Chromebook pundits have their heads in the sand again. In the past week, I’ve read not one, but two extremely myopic commentaries on how a PC easily trumps a Chromebook. One says “Chromebooks are a joke,” while the other suggests that a PC can already run the Chrome browser and do so much more, so “there’s no good reason to buy a Chromebook.”

Chrome App Launcher Mac

Really? Before I get into why I take issue, here’s a peek at the articles.

Last week I read “Assessing the Chromebook threat” from noted Windows blogger and author, Paul Thurrott. Here’s a snippet that’s filled with a few inaccuracies right off the bat.

“First, Chrome OS is still very much just a freaking web browser. As much as I like Google Chrome, I still find the general Chrome OS experience to be incredibly limiting. You’re basically using a single web browser window with multiple tabs, though recent Chrome OS versions feature a Windows 7-like taskbar at the bottom of the screen, which does make a bit of perceptual difference.”

Just a “freaking web browser”? I suspect Thurrott hasn’t paid attention to what we’ve noted for the past six months: Chrome and Chrome OS are strategic platforms to usurp engagement on the desktop. Yes, they have a front-facing browser, but look behind the window and you’ll see several ways — Packaged Apps and Native Client, for example — that developers can build rich apps.

Oh, and those apps work outside of the browser, so “using a single web browser window with multiple tabs” simply isn’t accurate. Since May, for example, I’ve been playing a console-like game in its own window on my Chromebook using an Xbox 360 controller. Just a browser, indeed…

Pixel gaming

This morning I saw a related piece by ZDNet’s Larry Seltzer dubbed “Why there’s no good reason to buy a Chromebook.” Seltzer suggests that only schools are buying them, even though Chromebooks are routinely filling up the top-5 laptop category on Amazon. I doubt schools are making their purchases through Amazon though. Here’s more of Seltzer’s point of view:

“Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but as I see it, there’s nothing you can do with a Chromebook that you can’t do with a Windows laptop running Chrome. I just shopped a bit on Amazon and it looks like the prices aren’t all that different. So what’s the point of buying a Chromebook?”

Since Seltzer asked to be corrected, I’ll take the bait. The perspective of preferring Chrome and Windows instead of just Chrome is old-school thinking. It doesn’t take into account what the cost is of having Windows to run Chrome. I don’t mean financial cost; I mean experiential cost.

A Chromebook couldn’t be much simpler to use. If you know how to browse the web, you know how to use a Chromebook. So you don’t have to flip between a touch-friendly environment and a traditional desktop to get work done. You don’t have to spend any time whatsoever getting updates to your device — in Chrome OS, they download in the background and are immediately applied upon a reboot. They’re also typically much smaller because the system is less complex; by design.

Windows update

You don’t have dozens of archaic services running in the background, wasting compute resources just to keep the operating system… operating. Granted, Chrome OS runs atop Linux, so there are processes taking place behind the scenes, but users will never know that, see them or be impacted by them.

Simply put: it’s not about what more you can do with Chrome OS over a traditional PC; it’s about all the complex, time-wasting crap you don’t get with Chrome OS. Looking at it from the former perspective indicates a legacy computing experience that’s growing old fast. If you don’t believe me, just look at tablet sales growth as PC sales continue to slump. To ignore the trend towards simpler compute experiences that offload to the cloud is simply irresponsible.

lots of tablets

Even more disappointing, though: I find both opinions to be not just dismissive of real, actual disruption going on in the computing industry, but also disrespectful to the many consumers that might find the Chromebook to be a perfectly viable and useful product. If all you need to do is surf the web, communicate via email, update social networks and such, what’s wrong with a machine that excels at all of these activities without adding dozens of apps and options you’d never use?

Granted, I use a Chromebook myself, so it’s easy to suggest I have some bias. And truth be told, I am biased: I write about and use products that are the best tools for my tasks.

Why do I take that approach? Because everyone’s computing requirements vary. All I can do is share my requirements and the devices that best meet them. If you have similar requirements and use cases, then it’s likely these products are worth the look. If not, fine.

chromebook-imac-monitor-2

Here’s the thing, though: As our computing needs and habits change, it seems to me that the real opportunity growth is the specific use cases where Chrome OS excels: The basics of online communication, search and simple productivity. Am I suggesting that Chrome OS will eventually eliminate traditional desktop computing? Not at all; there are still heavy-duty computing use cases like video production, research for the sciences and such.

And that’s why in the nearly two years of covering Chromebooks and creating dozens of Chrome Show podcast episodes, I’ve never said Chromebooks are the best product for all. Because I know they’re not. They’re fantastic for a specific type of user and use cases. For others, a PC or Mac is the better choice and I certainly wouldn’t be short-sighted so as to summarily dismiss those options as a joke.

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