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Why Google’s cloud-based Chromebooks could turn into a thunderstorm of fail

Mike Elgan argues an interesting case and we’d have to agree with him. The potential for failure that comes with Chrome OS and the new Google Chromebooks, is strong. To many, it might be fair to say that Windows is the OS we most commonly live with, despite its many, many flaws; the OS we love to hate if you will and Google feels it’s time to give the people an OS they can be proud of.

broken google chrome logo on samsung chromebook

Of course Microsoft have the enviable position of having the dominant OS across both the business and personal computing markets and one that Apple and Google would both surely kill for. But what does it take to knock Windows off the top spot? Google think their new way of doing things is the way of the future. A cloud based computing service where all your files, personal information and what-not are suspended in the cloud; the biggest draw being that if your computer were to fail, you lose nothing and could instantly pick up where you left off.

The first official Chromebooks, which will allow you to experience this new ‘webier’ OS environment are on offer from both Samsung and Acer (you can check them out here) and should become available in the US and UK as of June 15th. Pricing will be around $499 for a 3G/Wi-Fi combo or $70 less for a Wi-Fi-only model, available from places like Best Buy and Amazon.

Interestingly Google felt that a ‘rent-a-Chromebook’ service was a good idea too, with schools being able to rent one from $20 a month and businesses, $28 a month. But what are you getting for your money? Well Chrome OS offers similar functionality to the Chrome web browser, plus a whole heap more. For a start there’s the fundamentals like built in Flash compatibility and a PDF viewer and with the Chrome web store, a few thousand web-based applications for users to buy and download for added functionality like music playback and photo editing.

Being web-based also means applications don’t download updates, they’re ready to go with the latest version when you log in, but this is one point of contention. What’s to say the latest update is always the greatest, remember iOS 4 on the iPhone 3G? Updates don’t always guarantee improvements and sometimes leave users waiting for a fix/patch or alternative to get them back on track. Running a web based computer also has another pretty fundamental flaw – what if there’s no web, as in, what if you take your Chromebook on the train or you’re out of any built up area, immediately the chance of a strong 3G signal or open Wi-Fi access point drops and then what? Google has said that offline support is sort of there but some things would need a consistent web connection to be at all useful.

Also, thousands of web apps sound great in self contained situations, but the Chromebook will have to be for people who don’t like to mingle. At least for the mean time there’s no mention of cross compatibility from a web based photo editor to say, Adobe Photoshop and chances are there never will be.

The web is a fantastic invention and one that has undoubtedly reshaped the way the world works but it’s not the way to carry a full OS experience. Alongside maintenance, sites and services go down all the time. This week Blogger (owned by Google) was down for over 24-hours and a famed outage of Amazon’s EC2 website hosting service in April, knocked sites like Reddit, Foursquare and Quora off for four full days which on internet time is an absolute age.

How much do you or would you trust Google, not only with your emails, but the personal documentation and every other sensitive file you might currently have on your (most likely) Windows or Mac machine? They talk about security hard wired into each Chromebook but does that really instil absolute confidence. Sony promised a secure service to it’s PSN users, but they have ended up having to pick up the pieces after it was recently attacked, resulting in all kinds of personal information being potentially leaked including bank details and home addresses.

Google also aren’t the best at always following through, they are a business after all and knowing when to quit is a necessary business skill. Services like Lively, Answers, Wave and Video all meant well and had the potential to be great services, but they were offered to a market without space for them, why use Wave when you have Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare. Why use Video when you have YouTube and Vimeo, why use Chrome OS on a Chromebook when you’re instantly limiting yourself to a web-only infrastructure that doesn’t allow for user-flexibility.

The internet nowadays is versatile but only when you compare it to the internet of ‘yesteryear’. It still pales in comparison to a full-bodied operating system. If you really want the experience that Chrome OS and the Chromebook offers, download Google Chrome, throw a few web-apps on there and install it on a sub-$300 netbook. Unless they can prove me wrong, I think I’ll stick to my common, flawed OS for now, what about you?

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