Monday, March 6, 2017

On Chromebooks - First Week [Part 02]

So, I've committed to working with Chrome/Android and I am happy with that decision. Therefore everything in the world of Chrome is great - or at least acceptable. Right?

Not exactly. I feel like the question Google wants people to ask themselves is: "Can I live with just a Chromebook?" It's a reasonable question under some circumstances. I am certainly asking myself that question each day and I am choosing to do so largely without any coercion from Google. This despite the fact that it benefits Google greatly for me to invest in their ecosystem. By choosing to do so I am giving them everything they want. Even so, I fail to see the evidence of Google trying to push Chromebooks on me. I feel more like they have created Chromebooks and then winked at me, shrugged and said: "We can live with just a Chromebook. Can you?" That's not exactly strong advertising. It's also just my feeling, so it could be that I am simply missing what is happening in the world at large. It wouldn't be the first time and it likely won't be the last time.

My reasons aside, there are other great motivations for asking yourself this question. The most compelling question right now is: "Do I have to spend that much money on a computer?" For the most part, Chromebooks are there offering a reasonable alternative that most people could happily live with and doing so for a fraction of the cost associated with systems based on other platforms. Another strong question is: "Do I have to constantly live in fear of viruses and malware?" ChromeOS doesn't solve the problems behind the question, but it certainly mitigates them. It mitigates them to the extent that one could hand a Chromebook to an individual with no experience or tact in their online usage and reasonably expect the computer would continue to function unhindered for years.

But while Google is offering this, there are enormous gaps in the computing experience. Windows has decades of development invested into its platform and not just from Microsoft. It is truly amazing the wealth of tasks which can be accomplished with a Windows computer. Chromebooks are not really there. I've mentioned it is possible to handle audio and image editing with a Chromebook. This is true, but not exactly comfortable. Some of the discomfort stems from the fact that the system is different, so accomplishing things takes some adjustment. Some of it stems from the fact that Google has no interest in expanding ChromeOS to the extent that it can handle the types of things Windows can handle. Google has a very clearly painted corner they are operating in and they aren't planning to venture very far outside this region. Audio professionals, look elsewhere. Google isn't building a solution for you. At least not in ChromeOS. Video professionals, don't give it a second thought. It simply isn't for you at all. Developers move along. ChromeOS isn't trying to suit your needs.

None of the limitations inherent to the goals of ChromeOS are overtly bad. Google has a clear vision and excellent delivery on an inexpensive product that meets the needs of, frankly, 99% of established computing habits. There is a storm on the horizon, though. Google might be fine to leave wide swaths of professional interest to Microsoft, but Microsoft is not fine with leaving the rest to Google. The costs of Windows based computers are dropping and the relative strength of those offerings is increasing. Microsoft is investing heavily into this market and a day is coming when ChromeOS will no longer have the cost/performance edge it is enjoying now.

I also ask myself the question: "If money were no consideration, would I buy a Chromebook or a Windows laptop?" Invariably, the Windows laptop rises to the top. It can do the things ChromeOS can do, plus more. Of course, if money were no consideration, I would just buy both for fun. But that's not the point. The point is whether there is a compelling reason to use Chromebooks aside from the cost differentiation. Once cost becomes a non-factor, wouldn't I simply prefer to use Windows? Presumably, yes but as I work through this experiment I wonder if I might find some things about ChromeOS which are compelling enough to make me reconsider.

As a computer enthusiast, I struggle to see a strong argument for choosing ChromeOS over Windows. As simply a writer, where Windows and ChromeOS are on truly equal footing, things are less clear. So far, just having a Chromebook has been refreshing to my desire to write. I value this, but don't necessarily ascribe it to Chrome. I haven't fully worked out my feelings on the subject, but hope I can catalog their development.

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