ATLANTA (AP) - New laptops running Google’s Chrome operating system offer a new approach in portable computing: Games, productivity tools and anything else you might need are handled by distant computers connected to the Internet.
With this method, you don’t store data on a hard drive inside the computer. That streamlines things, at the cost of having stronger, standalone applications that normally handle these tasks. But the trade-off might be worth it for the more casual consumers of online content.
Google already has a good variety of online services that will be key to any success for the set of laptops known as Chromebook. There’s Gmail for messages, Google Plus for sharing photos and links and Google Docs for word processing, spreadsheets and other common tasks. Other companies also make free programs, which run through Google’s Chrome browser.
All that is important because you can’t install Microsoft Office or other software suites on the Chromebook. Everything done on the Chromebook has to be Web-based.
Chromebook is Google’s way of showcasing its “cloud computing” philosophy, in which everything you need is available on the Internet. Google believes storage and services are better handled by Internet-connected data centers located far from you. By contrast, computers running Microsoft’s Windows tend to keep files and programs on the individual machines in front of you.
Samsung’s cheaper, Wi-Fi-only model retails for $429. It comes co-branded with Google’s Chrome logo on the cover. It has two USB ports and slots for an SD memory card and a SIM phone card. You can connect an external monitor to it. You can also connect to the Internet wirelessly through Wi-Fi, but there’s no Ethernet port to allow wired connections to a network or Bluetooth capability to connect to untethered external devices.
For $70 more, you can get a model that can connect through Verizon’s 3G cellular network when Wi-Fi isn’t an option. That’s the model I tested, though I didn’t end up needing the 3G capabilities because I always had Wi-Fi at work, at home and in cafes.
The unit I tried only had a 16 gigabyte solid state storage drive, but that’s fine. I wasn’t planning on hoarding video clips or music files. Documents, for the most part, are supposed to be stored online as part of Google’s cloud philosophy.
Chromebook is a lean, mean browsing machine primarily because it urges users to move away from the local storage of content and data. Google’s approach is to have you store your photos in a Web-based album such as Picasa, rather than in your “My Pictures” folder on your machine. Google Docs can store your writings and Google’s Music beta (still invite-only at this stage) is positioned to handle your music collection.
Although you’d think it be slower storing your files elsewhere, the experience is actually faster because the Chrome system doesn’t have to be loaded with programs handling various tasks. You simply call those up online as you need them.
This approach will require faith. There is certainly more control and better access to storing content locally, and there’s more privacy as well. With its growing suite of services, though, Google is betting some habits will change with time.
The Chromebook took me to my login screen less than five seconds after turning it on. Less than five seconds later, I was staring at the Chrome browser and an initial offering of apps such as YouTube, Google Talk and Gmail. With my home Windows 7 install, I would likely still be starting at the Windows start-up logo in this same time frame.
I began by adding some of my own favorites to the browser, which essentially served as my home screen for launching apps. I pulled several apps from Google’s Chrome Web Store.
Tweetdeck was among the better Chrome apps for displaying my Twitter feed. Adjusting the Tweetdeck application to full screen delivered an experience that is almost the same as what I’d get when using Tweetdeck’s standalone application with a desktop PC.