Google’s announcement of its Chromebook leasing plans has raised more than a few eyebrows in the tech industry. Leasing systems to educational and business institutions is nothing new, but at a price point of $20 per month for education and $28 for business for a system that offers possibly the most simple and easy to support interface designed yet, this may prove to be a difficult offer to resist. I mean, after all, would you lease a Google Chromebook?
Two versions of the Chromebook have been detailed by Google thus far. One, made by Samsung offers a 12.1″ (1280×800) 300 nit display and a mini-VGA port for an external monitor. The other, made by Acer carries an 11.6″ HD widescreen CineCrystal LED-backlit LCD and an integrated HDMI port for an external monitor. Each of these systems include pretty much the same hardware after that point. They each have dual-band wi-fi and optional 3G, 4-in-1 card readers, Intel Atom dual-core processors, full size keyboards and 2 USB 2.0 ports. The Samsung comes out ahead on promised battery life with 8.5 hours against the Acer’s 6.
Where the Chromebook has its own immediate appeal is data safety. Even if you lose the notebook entirely, your data is all stored in the cloud and you are able to reach it from any system with an internet connection and a browser. This is an eventuality that Google has been working towards for years as their list of services keeps growing in spaces previously dominated by stand-alone applications.
A close cousin to data safety is security, and the Chromebook has a few interesting solutions to possible issues of security. Each tab opened in the OS creates a virtual sandbox which keeps infected sites out of your other tabs. This is similar to the method the current Chrome and Chromium browsers use to keep program-wide crashes from occurring. Data encryption is also a factor since not all of your data (cookies, downloads, etc.) is in the cloud. Everything on the hard drive is encrypted. If all else fails, there is a hardware-backed recovery system in place that allows you to restore the machine to factory settings with the push of a button.
Updates are applied to the Chromebook as soon as it’s turned on, which may be a step in the right direction considering how quickly new threats to security and privacy hit the web. Since the OS is somewhat streamlined and lightweight, updates aren’t expected to create a significant hassle when compared to more full-featured platforms.
There are some pretty considerable downsides to the Chromebook as well. For example, stand-alone applications you may be used to on the PC or Mac will probably not work. Pretty much everything you do on the Chromebook is served up to and from the cloud, meaning that if you have any reservations about the security of the web apps you’re working with, this may not be a good choice for you. In addition, most of the features you may become accustomed to on the device will be unavailable should you be out of range of a Wi-Fi network or good 3G connectivity. Before deciding to switch to the Chromebook either on purchase or by lease, you should definitely give it a shot in a visualization environment on your current machine such as VirtualBox or Parallels first. Unless you’re willing to exist within the cloud almost entirely, then you are probably best sticking with a regular notebook or desktop with either the Chrome or Chromium browser installed.
Virtualization and remote access platforms such as Citrix can be installed and used to turn the Chromebook in to a thin client, according to Google. This means that even though you’re using the Chromebook, you may have access to non-web applications as well. Whether or not this works as effectively as it could in theory is anyone’s guess.