Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chromebooks vs the Get a Horse Crowd

This has been the month of the Chromebook Pixel, starting with the mysterious leaked video, most in the Chromebook community salivated together and thought of the possibilities ranging from new applications to price tags, (that we can all now file in the wishful thinking category). Outside the Chromebook community they were weighing the possibility of hoax to point of scrutinizing the online life of the person who leaked it. Then Google made the announcement, the Pixel was/is a reality, I was too excited, and placing my order at first to notice the announcement had give the old Chrome OS/Chromebook detractors a new stage to trot out their old arguments, and I guess that was to be expected.   These critics never really understood vision what Google was trying to do, I like to call these people the “Get a Horse Crowd,” mainly because I feel if they lived when the first cars were announced they would be the people yelling at the car owner to “get a horse.”

What was more disappointing than the old Chromebook detractors, is the emergence of a new type, this new type have Chromebooks and understand the vision of Chrome OS.  These detractors we understandably upset by the announce price, and I get it, $1300 is a lot of money and not everyone can or should afford one, just like not everyone buys a Mac Book Pro or a high end Windows PC.  These detractors didn't stop there however, it wasn't enough to be disappointed with the price, they elevated disappointment to righteous indignation, promoting the idea that Google has somehow had slipped price limitation into Chromebooks specs and they violated some sort of promise by announcing high end hardware.  Lets call this group of detractors the “Chromebook Users aren't allowed to have nice things” crowd.  The most unsettling part is the the “Chromebook Users aren't Allowed to Have Nice Things,” crowd has started using the “Get a Horse” crowd’s arguments, you know this when you hear “its just a web browser”, “I can’t run Photoshop,” as if the only reason they were running Chromebooks was price and maybe that for them was “the” factor.

Both groups (more so the “Get a Horse” crowd) have resorted to labeling and name calling, ( and I realize that this is just the way of internet blogs, comments and chats), that by entertaining the thought of buying a Pixel, i’m considered to be an idiot, Google and I apparently have gotten a hold of some really good controlled substances, and my personal favorite i’m Bourgeois (history lesson as to who the bourgeoisie actually were, is a topic for another time and blog).  I am by the way, Bourgeois that is minus the negative connotation. The Chromebook fits my use case and has become the main computer in my personal life, and my Windows machines have become my companion devices, and while i’m not the brightest person in the world i’m hardly an idiot.

With how I use my computer and I suspect for many people if they really understood how they used computers, and not how they think they used computers they would find that Chromebooks are for them as well. So i wanted to take some time to respond the most common obstacles to Chromebook adoption, and yes there are some use cases that they are not good for, but they are increasingly becoming exceptions to the rule. The most common objections wrapped in snarky comments, boil down to the fear of cloud computing (the offline argument), the “I can just use the Chrome browser on whatever machine I have insert your favorite variety here”, and you can’t run native apps, Photoshop being the leading example here as if it has 90% adoptions rate.

1) The Offline Argument, “Chromebooks are useless without internet connection,” useless to whom? How often do you use your (Windows/Linux/Mac) device offline?, How many people are banging away on their word processor writing the next great novel, that requires no internet research?  Take note the next time the network goes down in your place of business, my guess you will see a small percentage of people getting any real work done on their Windows/Macs/Linux/ machines, and a lot of people heading to the coffee machine or taking an early/late lunch.  Thanks to Google Slides and Documents, I have given presentations, started documents (I do need internet connectivity at some point finish most of the Docs I create, regardless of the machine I’m using), while offline, on airplanes I have crafted emails that were sent when I landed.   Now if you truly live where there is not a lot of internet connection available a Chromebook isn't for you, but then again I don’t think you would get much out a fat client without an internet connection either, World of Warcraft probably wouldn't be much fun offline. We pretty much live in an online world regardless of what device you using, how useful is a tablet and smartphone without a network really?

2) The Chrome browser is the same thing: This one you hear all the time as I’ll just install Chrome on my “X” device, sure you can do that but The idea of Chrome OS cutting out all the crap that Chrome sits on top of, is part of what attracts us to Chrome OS. People in the tech community take good care of our machines, and we make updating our machine look easy, but I still would rather not have to do it if given a choice.  You don't have to look past the friends and family members who use you for tech support to know maintaining a Windows/Linux/Mac isn't always easy for the rank and file user. I bought my largest source of tech support calls a Chromebook and I have had one call in a year and half, compared with 2-3 every month, Chromebooks win on maintenance and I don't care how much you think the heavier OSes have gotten to manage ( and they have)  Chrome OS makes them look difficult by comparison.  So in the end you can install the Chrome browser on Fat client and deal with the OS underneath if you choose to  while most rank and file users can’t or wouldn’t want to if they knew of an alternative. I won’t even touch the portable hard drive argument other than to ask how do access it if you leave it at home or if it fails?

3) Native Apps, “Chromebooks are limited because I can’t run Photoshop” I'm not sure why people expect a Chromebook to run Photoshop (most commonly cited example), to the best of knowledge there is Photoshop isn't available for any distribution of Linux, no Quicken either ( a better example if you want shoot holes in Chromebooks), am I to surmise that Linux is limited?  Where are all these Photoshop power users anyway, and do they really use all $700 worth of that program (its funny paying more than 300 dollars for device is crazy but paying $700 for software you will use a fraction of is just fine)?  Honestly most amateur photographers achieve color corrections,adjust density,and masking with Pixlr? I contend that most people who claim Photoshop as a given either don't use it or don't use it past what online tools can do. When it comes true Photoshop power users, sure a Chromebook isn't for you as a primary machine, but again i contend that is a minority of computing use cases.  Sure World of Warcrafters (don’t lose your internet connection) and heavy duty gamers keep right on using your fat clients. The use cases that prohibit Chromebooks aren't as numerous as portrayed by the tech press and commenters on line would have you believe

Now that I don't have to pay for Photoshop $700 Quicken $60, Office $90 (for the new subscription thing Microsoft has got going on) or buy or maintain an Antivirus solution, my Chromebook is looking a lot more affordable to me.  Applications aren't absolutes, they can be replaced, if I can find a web app that does what I need it to do over a native app, and then rid myself of the underlying fat OS in the process i’m going to do it, saving me time, money, and aggravation.  Sure you can find valid use cases for fat client OS, just like people still ride horses where it makes sense, like a mountain trail, but i’m not going to replace my car on the chance I might want to travel down a narrow mountain trail once in awhile.

I am happy Google is putting Chrome OS out on some nice hardware, treating like a true OS and not a thin client, and in my mind i’m not an idiot or bourgeois for wanting high quality device for Chrome OS. Google says they designed the Pixel so people will be immersed in the experience and I want to be immersed. Outside of games what better app is there to be immersed in rather than the web browser most user's connection to the world.


  1. Great post - thanks. I like your tone and the straightforwardness. I'm never off-line, I never use Photoshop (why would I when I can do photo manipulation with apps for free?).
    I'm happy with my Chromebook allthough there are things I need to do I'm unable to do on the CB due to lack of Java: Home banking in Denmark is no go without Java. Do I need Home banking? Yes, for sure!

  2. Ove - you want to do home banking using Java? Really? Have you not heard about everyone getting hacked through Java? It it time to move banks - to one that values your security.

    I have removed Java from all of my machines and thank goodness Google refuse to let it anywhere near Chromebooks - that is what makes them the most secure machines around.