What Is A Chromebook? [MakeUseOf Explains]

chrome new logo   What Is A Chromebook? [MakeUseOf Explains]We’ve seen so many changes over just the last couple of years that it’s getting rather difficult to keep up with everything. However, you can still get the jist that everything is moving towards the web, which is now more commonly being dubbed “the cloud” (except that it doesn’t rain on you).

As such, your devices should probably be ready and well equipped to make full use of cloud services for your convenience. However, our big and slow desktops and laptops still have many unnecessary components from our long computing past. At least, that’s what Google says.

Google’s Approach with Computers

chromebooks ad   What Is A Chromebook? [MakeUseOf Explains]
Google has decided to take a different approach with computers, right down to the hardware. As computing is moving to the cloud, where Google is a major player of cloud services with Gmail, Google Docs, and much more, computers should depend less on data stored on the machine itself but rather put all the data in the cloud.

Plus, most of a modern user’s activities is online, where a browser is used to surf around Facebook, play Flash games, and more. Rarely do they touch other applications, especially any that cannot be replicated through online cloud services (such as Microsoft Office –> Google Docs). With that logic, Google came up with the Chromebook.

The Chromebook

A Chromebook is just like a small laptop, with some key differences. It is relatively thin, and to the untrained eye doesn’t seem to have an operating system. Yes, you heard right, there’s no obvious operating system. Of course there is one, else the device wouldn’t work, but there isn’t a Start Menu or anything else that you recognize as part of your operating system. Instead, all you get is a nice login screen and a browser. That’s it.

Benefits of Chrome

As it’s Google’s device/idea, the included browser is obviously Chrome. Honestly it isn’t a bad thing, as Chrome’s userbase is growing at an exponential rate. Just look at this graph if you don’t believe me! Also, Chrome’s focus on speed and overall performance is a plus for the low powered device (which still sports a dual-core Intel Atom processor).

That’s it; it’s just you and the Chromebook with literally only Chrome on it. While it isn’t meant to replace all your computers (and I don’t see that happening anytime soon), it is a good replacement for netbooks and laptops for those who just use the Internet anyways.

Hardware and Firmware Differences

Because the devices are built for the web (cough, Chrome), Google engineers have taken a lot of effort to take away a lot of system processes that each traditional computer carries out that, in this case, are unnecessary. This includes checking for devices to see which one to boot from and so on. Instead, all these checks are taken out so that the device is ready to log you in after just 8 seconds of booting. And the device is also supposed to wake up instantly.

The Samsung models of the Chromebook get around 8.5 hours of battery life, which should be enough to get you through the day.

Go Worry-Free with Automatized Updates

Also in line with this simplistic approach, Google makes sure that any behind-the-scenes jobs such as updates and corruption protection are taken care of automatically and transparently. Since everything a user does on a Chromebook is stored online, Google emphasizes the ease of simply using a different device (whether Chromebook or not) to get back to the data you’ve always had in front of you in case your Chromebook breaks, gets stolen, or worse.

Pricing and Alternatives

chromebook pricing   What Is A Chromebook? [MakeUseOf Explains]
You can see the speed of the Chromebook in the video below, which almost instantly makes me want to go get one, but sadly I don’t have $430 to spend on a Wi-Fi only model just yet (or $500 for a 3G model where you only get 100MB/month for free for two years).

However, I’m doing some research where it may be possible to install the operating system that is on Chromebooks onto your own laptop or netbook, but I need to find out more first. A safer, sure-fire way to get a similar experience is to install JoliOS, which happens to be installed on the other computer used in the comparison video below.

Conclusion

There isn’t much else to say about these little devices, as Google wanted to make them as simple as possible with the “Boot and Go” approach. They seem to be a nice, practical tool for the average user once they get to understand that there are online versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. While this isn’t the perfect device for everyone, it can still be helpful for plenty.

What do you think about Chromebooks? Will they eventually become a tool that everyone can use for anything? Let us know in the comments!

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

37 Comments -

0 votes

Bipin Bhandari

too expensive

0 votes

rahul

yes it is, best suited for business person!

0 votes

Matt.Smith

I agree. It needs to be much less expensive. The fact is what Chrome OS has some things that are kinda nice (it’s simple, it boots quick) it otherwise is massively under-featured compare to even Ubuntu, nevermind Windows or OS X. Yet they charge more for these than most Windows netbook. Nope, doesn’t make sense. 

0 votes

Anonymous

My 75 year old mother and I both got one a few weeks ago. The Chromebook is the best invention EVER, especially for her. She panics when she has to work with Windows, the constant updates, virus threats, slow booting, and bells&whistles she’ll never need.

I have read all the comments, from too expensive (can get a Windows netbook for $…) to too simple (my netbook can … -run Windows-) but they are all missing the point.

The Chromebook BOOTS in 8 seconds, resumes in 1. It never stalls. It never needs countless updates and reboots. No need for a virus scanner. No frills. No scary settings, NOTHING. Mom and I love it. In comparision, my Windows desktop feels like a sluggish, bloated behemoth. Wish I could ditch it for good!

0 votes

Danny Stieben

Indeed it does have its pros. For a lot of average users, a Chromebook would be enough, if they can pay for it. Those who argue against them are usually power users or at least those that are somewhat computer-savvy.

0 votes

Jason Wischer

I think they got the price point completely wrong.  At $200-$250, these would sell like hotcakes.  At $450-500, i’ll pass. (and so will everyone else). iPad2 is a much better spend for that kind of money.

0 votes

Danny Stieben

Agreed. Sadly they skyrocket past $500 when shipping and taxes are added.

0 votes

Bhavik_jazzy

i would prefer i pad for the same cost… simplified, touch, and great UI

0 votes

Yvan

For the same price, I could buy a Dyson vaccuum. Great design and technology too.

0 votes

Dzinepod

This would be perfect for my 73 yr old Mom who is so confused by computers, to the point where she has a total mental block against them. It’s funny… and I try to teach her, but this little device sounds simple and harmless.

0 votes

Danny Stieben

You’d probably have the best chance with one of these. If not, then maybe it’s just not meant to be.

0 votes

Abbotts4him

I went to that website just now. Looks like a scam to me. Try going to its “home” page, and you get a pitch for working at home. It’s not the news website that they try to make it look like it is.

0 votes

Tina

It is a scam. Sorry, comment was removed.

0 votes

Jai

With no internet connection, this thing is dead.

0 votes

Yvan

Not true. Web applications working offline do exist.

0 votes

uhh

why are people comparing this to the ipad? totally different product. I forgot the last time I tried doing real work with my ipad.

0 votes

Danny Stieben

True. iPads are still appear as playtoys rather than machines to get work done quickly and efficiently, which is the marketing aim for Chromebooks.

0 votes

Priyankasood89

wen was it last tym

0 votes

Lynn Kauppi

I don’t trust Google with my data and if the internet is down, I’ll still need access to my data. I’ll stick with my desktop and laptop.
Having said that, this does appear to be good for those who are intimidated by computers. But there’s still the privacy issue.

0 votes

Danny Stieben

I don’t believe much is going to happen unless there is a privacy breach so great that it requires action from the authorities.

0 votes

Rachel Locke

The thing is is our modern technology is tending towards the use of cloud computing.  It really is the next step in technological development, and I think products like these will really push us to get faster and better coverage for our internet within the civilized world at the very least.  Its innovations like this that force our technology by giving us new things to work with.  Once we get at least nationwide internet coverage (a chore to say the least but we need it to really compete in the global economy) things like this will skyrocket, and cloud computing will likely become the standard for computing.  I mean if you think about it the internet is one massive super computer, its just none of it works together to help the users, who knows something like this could make a major beneficial change to the internet.

For those on the privacy kick, the main issue there is unless you are 100% cut off from the internet, you haven’t had true privacy for at least 10 years now.  It’s not like they are purposely taking it away from you, that is just the nature of the beast as our technology grows.  How much power we can put on one chip in each persons computer is really limited.  This was just the next logical step in computing, if you wanted to keep your privacy, then don’t use computers, because if you have been using computers for the last 10 years with ANY internet access what so ever, you haven’t had any real privacy for a long time.

0 votes

JTF

My wife has been using a Chromebook since the day it came out.  The computer just works. No fuss, no hassles.  You forget it’s a computer and think of it as an internet machine.  If these ever drop in price, it will become a must-have appliance. 

0 votes

alan trinder

how do you get onto the cloud? we have vast areas where wifi is unknown and our 3g still has to be fully licensed in Thailand so even ipads are not as practical as in say the USA never mind chromebooks

0 votes

Danny Stieben

They should probably have at least added an ethernet port…

0 votes

Willdrick

@b7b93ea607da072f9899dbc5e9dc1ea3:disqus : well, if you have an iPad and a wireless bluetooth keyboard… it’s pretty much the same thing, and it works offline or with hediously slow connections. 
@b6420fef198b9dee71265ed7dfd7f77d:disqus : I have been following ChromiumOS since the first news about it, I wanted to know how they could manage the “offline” part of it. But to be honest, I don’t think it would be practical. For Example, I have a notebook I take with me to class, but internet at my university sucks big time. if you download a file it tops 20kbps. So you may have an 8 sec boot but until that kind of connection loads google docs, it makes no sense of the fast boot. Besides there are a lot of networks which block specific sites, or even worse, they whitelist.

0 votes

Danny Stieben

They assume that Google services like Google Docs won’t be blocked, which is all Google really needs to care about.

0 votes

Gary Lai

Why didn’t you mention that there is a $349 Chromebook from Acer?
The Chromebook is awesome, ever since I got it my slower booting, more unstable, higher maintenance, shorter battery life, more expensive Windows laptop has been gathering dust. I use it for everything – email, web surfing, editing documents, streaming music through MOG or Pandora and video like Netflix, editing photos, etc., etc.. It’s a complete lie that it is a brick when it is offline. It is about as useful offline as any laptop because you can install HTML5 extensions through the Chrome Web Store to the browser. This includes offline word processing applications, offline email, offline games, offline photo editing, etc.. The biggest thing against a Chromebook right now is that people just don’t understand it, due in part to it being a very different concept from a traditional Windows/Mac laptop, and in part to the misinformation being spread about it by journalists and uninformed bloggers.

0 votes

Danny Stieben

$349 Acer Chromebook? Where?!?

If I have enough money saved up I might get one, unless I get a Mac first.

0 votes

kev

Yes this will become the standard and it should.

0 votes

Danny Stieben

It’s definitely an interesting concept for it to become “the standard”.

0 votes

Allisondcnt

Two questions: Can I use excel and word if I am not connected to the internet? Can I use them if I am connected to the internet

0 votes

Danny Stieben

You cannot use the full, original version of Word and Excel on a Chromebook as the Chromebook is only a browser, and nothing more. You can however, use the online versions of Word and Excel that Microsoft offers, or you can use Google Docs which offers the same functionality. I’m not sure about Microsoft’s offline capabilities, but I know Google Docs works offline as well.

https://docs.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=1628467

0 votes

Danny Stieben

You cannot use Word and Excel, period. However, you can use online alternatives such as Google Docs’ documents and spreadsheets. I believe they also work when you’re not connected to the internet as long as you’ve accessed the site at least once.

0 votes

Mdshaffer

Recently my laptop was unresponsive for 45 minutes as it did its anti-virus scan and downloaded 9 Microsoft Security updates in the background and installed them.  That was enough for me.  I ordered two Chromebooks for my wife and I.  We couldn’t be happier.  We are retired and 99.9% of our computing is done on the web.  Finally a computer that meets retirees needs!  Its so fast in comparison to our bloated window machines that a comparison can’t be made

0 votes

Rainbowdinosaurz

If it’s a web only laptop, does that mean I can’t use software like Adobe Photoshop and SAI Paint Tool? I’m a digital artist and I need photoshop on my computer, though I could live without SAI. If it weren’t for that, this laptop would be perfect for me.

0 votes

Danny Stieben

That would be correct. However, you can use any online tools that replicate Photoshop features. I know deviantArt has a decent painting tool, but I doubt that will be enough. If you ever find one that replicates more features of Photoshop, let me know!

0 votes

Aibek

thanks for the input