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A little while back at Google I/O Google introduced the world to Chromebooks.  Svelte machines that run Google's own OS, Chrome OS.  Chrome OS is unlike any other OS that's hit the shelves.  It's fast, lean, and easy to use.  Chromebooks look to continue that theme.  They are fast (relatively), lean, and easy to use.

Chromebooks aren't mean to be primary machines.  Google has said as much.  They are meant to be secondary or complimentary to a main computer running a full blown OS like Windows, Mac, or Linux.  Does this sound familiar?  It should.  It's the same thing that's been said about netbooks since they were introduced.  Head past the break to find out why you would want one.

 
Web browsing is high on the list of what's typically done on a computer.  Google knows this.  So they set out to build an OS centered around browsing the web.  They already have a winner with Chrome web browser, so why not extend that and make it a base for an OS?  Someone at Google must have had that same thought, because that's exactly what they did.  Chrome OS is simply a much more functional and feature-rich version of Chrome web browser.  And Chromebooks are what run this operating system.  We can't talk about Chromebooks without first talking a little about Chrome OS, though.
 
Chrome OS - The Software
 
Android Central
 
This is not a review of Chrome OS.  More like an overview of the main features.
 
What you see is what you get.  When you open a new tab you get your list of apps.  The list is automatically populated when you install an app from the Chrome web store.  Chrome OS is set up just like Chrome web browser.  If you click on the wrench that brings up your settings menu.  This covers all settings for the OS, not just those for Chrome.  They are sparse, and there isn't a lot to adjust.  Tabs can be reorganized and pinned however you like.
 
Chrome OS boots fast.  Really fast.  Power button to login screen takes less than 10 seconds.  When you log in it automatically restores your last session, meaning all of the tabs you had open are automatically reloaded for you when you log in.  Waking up from sleep (which happens automatically when you close the lid) is almost instantaneous.  Updates happen automatically, just like they do with Chrome web browser. 
 
Chromebooks - The Hardware
 
Android Central
 
Chromebooks are designed from the ground up to run Chrome OS.  The first hardware to run Chrome OS officially was the CR-48.  I have one.  I'm sure some of you have one.  It's a great machine.  It was never meant to be a retail unit, though.  And that's why it's not considered a Chromebook.  Samsung and Acer are the first two manufacturers to built Chromebooks.
 
The specs are very similar, with the major differences being the screen size and design.  This is Google's doing, because they specified what hardware to put in these machines.  I'm not going to go into specifics here (we can save that for a later time), but think netbook and you'll get the basic idea.  The difference is the OS.  With Chrome OS netbook specs are more than enough to cope with what you'll be doing on it.  Dual-core Atom processors and integrated graphics should be more than adequate.
 
The keyboard on Chromebooks also looks a little different.  Don't worry it's still a QWERTY layout, but other things have changed.  The caps lock key has been replaced with a search key, which opens another tab for you to perform your search.  There are no function keys.  They've been replaced with back, forward, refresh, fullscreen, window switcher, brightness up/down, volume mute, volume up/down, and the power button in that order.  You also have no windows key.
 
So that's Chrome OS and Chromebooks in a nutshell.  Visit the Chromebook forums to discuss Chrome OS and the current crop of Chromebooks.
 

Reader comments

Chrome OS and Chromebooks explained

24 Comments

Until they bring the price of these WAY down, chromebooks will be a failed experiment. At their current prices there is no incentive at all to buy one.

What are their current prices?

I just got an email from Acer about their $349 Chromebook. I don't know what the prevailing price schedule is, but that seemed pretty reasonable to me.

Since I have a Android Phone and Android Tablet I don't see me buying one right now, but for the un-tech-savvy (your grandma) it might be great choice.

I wish you had written this article thinking of my eighty-year old mother in mind as that is who I'm trying to get to switch from her iMac to Chrome OS. This article is a bit spartan to say the least. Not that I don't appreciate it, but sending my mother to the forums to learn more will only ensue in a two-hour phone call that I'd like to avoid. Thanks.

I wouldn't pay more than $150 max. There is no incentive to using this. Its not what Android is going to become. In my thoughts, its more of a waste than anything else. Perhaps time would be more appropriately spent figuring out how to integrate the Chrome browser into the Android OS, and dump this whole ChromeOS idea. Unless its free like Linux, and will run all sorts of hardware as a decent OS, this OS is pointless and destined for failure.

Seems redundant to me... I mean if you have a Samsung Galaxy S, a Galaxy Tab 10.1, a Linux (or Windows) desktop... Where does the Chromebook fall?

Seems like they would have been better off making a cheaper touch screen Android powered tablet, included a USB "Docking Station" a la the Moto Atrix (but actually use the 10" tablet as the screen) and market that.

I think they need to get back to making this simple - a device that works the same across the board - almost like Windows Mobile did with Windows XP. It was darn close to awesomeness - for it's time. You have a mobile device, a laptop and a computer. ActiveSync brought the same documents to all three locations - with cloud servers this is even easier. Now, you just need an Android phone, tablet and computer... Hummm, Android powered computer? Anyone?

I agree with you about the tablet docking station, but I don't think it's feasible at the moment. A version of the keyboard/case that Logitech makes for the iPad would be awesome and would totally supplant any desire I have for a Chromebook, but there would have to be a different version made for each Android tablet, and I don't think any one tablet is popular enough to make that a profitable accessory for third party manufacturers.

Seems redundant to me... I mean if you have a Samsung Galaxy S, a Galaxy Tab 10.1, a Linux (or Windows) desktop... Where does the Chromebook fall?

Well, yeah, if you have all that swag, you don't want this.

But maybe your grandmother,or your mom?

I think the technology is getting ahead of what google books offer... My tab already do most of what it's necessary when I'm away from my main pc... Almost retiring my laptop

Chromebook... the next Google TV. In all seriousness, I haven't read one positive review of these devices. I like the concept, but I can buy (and I did) a really nice netbook running Win 7 for about $300. That's half the price.

I see zero point in buying this when it's so expensive. I really wanted one but a $500 price tag is absurd. A notebook without computing power is a netbook. Who is going to spend $500 on a netbook? Especially since google hasn't figured out how to do online storage of media yet and their Google Docs is so janky. I am a huge fan of Google but 30% of their moves just aren't ideal. They need to rethink their integration of products.

500 too much, how about $350?
No?
Maybe $250?

At some price point this device becomes attractive.

But don't blame Google. I'm sure they don't set the final price.

This isn't meant to be a Full on workstation. Google Docs works fine for letters and recipes and stuff you typically do around the home.

Google doesn't know how to do On line storage of media? You mean like Google Music? Picasa? YouTube?

I disagree about the point of these computers. I think Google IS ahead of the curve. Cloud computing is on the horizon, and this is just one of many steps already in that direction. How many of you use Pandora? MOG? Sonos? Google Music? Shared Picasa albums? Google docs? On-line programs/games? Dropbox? Sugarsync? More and more functions that were once limited to the home are being migrated to the cloud, because progressive companies know that when we pick up our phones and tablets, we are on the go and wil want to have access to all our information wherever we go. The issue I see with Chromebooks is that it is a premature baby. It needs a lot of love and tenderness, maybe some tube feeds. But this is where it is all going. Right now, data transfer rates are the biggest limitation factor and like all new technologies, cost. Early adapters have their burden of the cost, but it drives the market. I'm sure that in 5-10 years, we'll all be using "chromebooks" or "chromedesktops" or whatever...everything like this takes experimentation and time. Google has the money to do it (and that does scare me that they do have such a high market share), but no one can accuse them of not being innovators.

Hmm, I think the article and the comments overlook a key market for chromebook: smb and enterprise IT.

We're a Google Apps shop, so the chromebook can fulfill the needs of about 60% of our users. With the Citrix XenApp receiver coming along in a few months, legacy apps will be supported too.

So here's what we get: a mobile, manageable hardware solution that costs 1/3rd the price of our standard laptop configuration. Across our entire userbase that's an overall 40% reduction in hardware-cost-per-user. And that doesn't take into account additional savings gained from imaging, deployment, anti-malware and patch management costs.

There are some segments of our userbase for which a chromebook will never be a solution - engineering, financial modeling, programming. But for the users who are piloting chromebooks right now we're seeing very positive results.

Taking off my IT management hat and putting on my geek hat, the chromebook would never fulfill my needs. It's great for wandering around the house, but not so great for carrying around with me. For email and Facebook it beats a tablet, but for portability nothing beats my smartphone. What do I use regularly? A Nexus S 4G, a Nextel radio, an iPod Touch, a XOOM, a G-Tablet, a Galaxy Tab 10.1 (my current fav), a MacBook and an HP laptop. Oh yeah, and a Samsung chromebook too.

I'm thinking WebTop on the Motorola Atrix (or at least a derivative of it - Webtop on the transformer would be pretty cool) beats this... I'm not going to pay 300 bucks for a web browser, sorry google.

I'm interested in the Chrome OS software, but not the hardware. I have perfectly good Samsung netbook that I've thrown multiple derivatives of Linux on that I'm killing to put a clean copy of Chrome OS on. I've used the Chromium OS builds by Hexxeh, but have never been able to get it to install correctly. I'd happily use an official version of Chrome OS on my netbook, but have no intention of wasting money on an overpriced Chromebook.

I'm actually looking forward to testing this out. I know it may not be the popular opinion at this forum, but I think Google is taking some HUGE next steps. I'm on board.