One thing to remember about Google's netbook: forget it

All the disadvantages of three products it could have been, no benefit

It's not often that you see products that are kind of nichey and oddball within the IT world getting coverage in the general press

The combination of Google's ubiquity, the Web's popularity and the dirt-cheapness of the netbook have combined (apparently) to make Google's experimental, upcoming, might-never-really-fly CR-48 netbook interesting enough to get reviews from journalists who write for normal people instead of geeknoscenti.

(It's not that they don't know what they're talking about; many do. It's just that their audiences have about a thimbleful of patience for tech products they don't already recognize, so seeing anything that's a real departure from the mainstream is really unusual.)

The question in most non-technical reviews of CR-38 ChromeOS netbooks is WTF? (Or, oddly, where is the Caps Lock key?)

Within IT, the questions tend to be more about whether ChromeOS is a flash in the pan, what the difference is between ChromeOS and Android, whether adding an untested OS from Google is a good idea, and whether it will keep the category of netbooks alive.

The answer to all of those is no. Netbooks of all kinds, and network computers that aren't strictly dumb terminals running virtual desktops, should be allowed (compelled, really) to disappear into the a secret place in the nearest recycling facility where low-quality, unreliable, underpowered, disappointing, fall-to-pieces technology go to die.

ChromeOS may run HTML5 well, respond quickly on good connections and not get mucked up with Windows' tendency toward junk-file arteriosclerosis or the MacOS' no-problem-everything's-fine-except-this-bomb. It may even make a good client for libraries, kiosks, airports and other publicly available PCs.

It will not be a good client for most consumers or corporate end users.

It's not designed to store or run apps on the machine itself, so even when it can store enough data in its flash memory to run an application locally, it's only doing it until it can dump the data off into the cloud.

That's a good solution as a backup or to share files or to do research or put data up in a place you can find it from another location and another machine – when you're travelling, for example.

It's not a good solution for everyday computing unless you only turn it on from a place where you can be guaranteed not only of a fast connection, but one that won't complain about the sites you're using.

Apps on Google sites are pretty generally available, but proxies are not, and neither are some email services, data-storage services or security services.

" This is not a computer, this is a large phone that has taken texting to a whole level," according to "real user" Ben Stein at Laptop Reviews (From Real Users). " It really is comparing something like the Amazon Kindle to the iPad, it does one thing well, but just for a lot cheaper than the iPad."

On the other hand: "I live about 90% in the Google cloud so the device is amazing for me," according to Jon Steinberg, who appears to be a real user but is actually president of BuzzFeed, a kind of Slashdot for trashy pop culture, and who used to work at Google recruiting ISVs and channel companies for Google's SMB group.

He's a cloud nerd.

"Email, docs, calendar, twitter, Facebook work perfectly. The only things I need that are not in the cloud are Keynote and Excel, but I imagine those dependencies will fade in the coming years," he wrote.

They might. But a couple of years is a long time if you're trying to do some financial planning with a spreadsheet that is happy and healthy on a Google server you can't get to from where you are.

Even Wired thinks that what ChromeOS does it does fairly well. It's just that what it does is a lot less than – currently – anyone needs their computer to do.

No matter how big a cloud nerd you are, you need some data on your machine or right nearby, and not have to rely on hitting a local server or Web site that might not be available.

Relying entirely on the cloud leaves you SOL if any one of the online services you rely on is unavailable – along with your data – from where you are.

That's not to say it wouldn't be a good client for a house or small business that has a central server set up to stream apps and store data locally – Wyse and Citrix and half a dozen other companies made a good business of doing exactly that.

It's not an all-purpose computer, though, and not something I expect to see much of inside corporations. It's not as convenient as a tablet, not as light as a phone, and not as powerful as a laptop.

Without one of those advantages to really sell it, it's just stuck in the middle, along with a whole category of fall-apart, cheapo, vending-machine netbooks that are disappearing quickly, but should be hurried along at every opportunity before they finish dropping parts all over my floor.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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