I am often asked what is a good deal for a laptop? I usually ask do you need Microsoft Office and if the person states no then I will direct a user to a Chromebook. Despite a slow start, in the five years since these laptops have become a much more viable option.
In today's cloud computing environment the idea of a computer based around a browser is not as far fetched as it use to be. Several browser only OSes failed in the past such as the MSN TV Browser which relied on dial-up internet. Now we have fast broadband and public wifi so a connection is not to far away.
When they first appeared though, the list of complaints was great. Low end specs. No local storage. No desktop applications. A complete reliance on the web and very little offline support. Here are the main reasons those problems matter a lot less in 2016.
It's easy to take Wi-Fi access for granted these days. If you're too young to remember the time when having to wait on the modem to finish dialup and there was no wifi or broadband.
Average internet speeds have gotten a lot faster in the last half decade, and internet access itself has become more ubiquitous, covering coffee shops, hotels, planes and all kinds of private and public hotspots. You still have to be careful how you use the public hotspots see my previous blog covering WiFi safety.
If you think about it, there aren't that many places left where you can sit down and open a laptop and don't have at least a few Wi-Fi options to pick from.
That's partly because the cost of setting up infrastructure is improving, partly because we're all now carrying smartphones, and partly because of the demand for streaming services like Hulu and Pandora (and selling someone on a Chromebook all you need is stored in the cloud is a lot easier).
Yes, there are places where getting online is difficult, but the situation is a lot better than it used to be, and it's only going to improve from here on in.
Web apps are better – and work offline
One of the original problems with relying solely on web apps was that as soon as your connection went, your Chromebook became just a very expensive paperweight. That situation has changed dramatically too, with Google leading the way.
Google Drive and its online office G-suite can now work perfectly happily without a web connection. You can create and edit files, with all the changes getting synced back to the cloud as soon as a connection is restored. That means with Google Docs' offline support you can use a Chromebook to go and write a business plan while on an airplane.
Google Play Movies does offer downloads for offline viewing, and you do get a few gigabytes of local storage on Chromebooks additionally (there's always the USB stick or external hard drive option too).
Of course you'll still come across a lot of web apps that break when there's no Wi-Fi available, but like Wi-Fi access itself, the trend is in the right direction. With or without internet access, these online apps are becoming more powerful and feature-rich, like the online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint now offered by Microsoft.
Android apps are coming soon
Greater Wi-Fi coverage, better apps, and better offline support would be great reasons in themselves why Chromebooks are more appealing than ever, but on top of all that there's the recent introduction of Android apps to Chrome OS.
Accessing the Google Play Store on Chromebooks is a smart move. It increases the offline capabilities of the devices for a start, because a lot of apps can use local storage.
It also opens up more possibilities for apps that feel like native, desktop tools, such as the Microsoft Office apps for Android, Who needs windows then? for instance. It's an opportunity to install a whole new pile of games too, in addition to those already available in the browser.
Full-scale web apps combined with all the variety of the Android app store really is the best of both worlds.
The original Chromebook advantages still stand
One trending point of view when Chromebooks came out went like this: Why buy a laptop that's just a browser, when for a little extra you can buy a Windows or Mac machine that's the Chrome browser and so much more?
What that perspective misses is that sometimes less is more. Not everyone wants to have to deal with antivirus programs, OS updates, desktop applications and regular backups. In fact, it's probably fewer people than ever that are willing to trade the extra hassle for the extra capabilities.
Google's very first Chrome OS followers focused on the benefits of a laptop that never slowed down and never needed updating one that you could drop or lose without losing a single document, email or photo. A lot of people are now growing up with the idea that when you move from device to device, everything moves seamlessly with you.
Are Chromebooks for everyone? Certainly not. Are Windows and Mac laptops more powerful? Of course. But for a growing number of people especially the eductation market who spend all their time in a web browser anyway, Chromebooks make a lot of sense – particularly with the added bonus of Android app support.
Check back next week for the IT Tip of the week. Also if you went out and purchased a new chromebook and would like a case to put your chromebook in check out this product from Promo Sherpas. Promotional Solo Pro Tablet/Laptop Sleeve. IF you have a whole fleet of these would be a wise investment keeping the chromebooks safe.