Google's ChromeOS Laptop is not yet a disaster

It will be late, underpowered, and too narrow in its ambitions; yay Chrome!

Google is going back into the hardware business.

Considering its success with and commitment to the Nexus phone, that can't be anything but good news (although the Nexus may be back, albeit made by Samsung, not Google).

Actually I was all ready to scoff at the Chrome OS and its potential in the enterprise, not least for its relatively low ability to operate offline and Netbook-like simplicity (which, when you're actually using a netbook, you recognize as just underpowered technology).

Gartner analyst Nick Jones isn't too excited about it, either. It won't ship until mid-year, will confuse consumers who don't know the difference between it and a "regular" computer, and could be too focused on the cloud in general and Google in particular.

All valid points.

Chrome OS is a work in progress, according to Google. So is Windows, only the progress is slower.

it runs on the Chrome 9 browser, through which all the controls for the PC are available.

It can sync with your desktop PC -- so it's designed as much as an adjunct device than as your main computing platform -- and can operate offline using HTML5's offline caching and storage capabilities.

The only app Google promises will be able to work offline is Google Docs, though it will have to update that to get it to work.

It can link up using WiFi or a 3G cell connection from Verizon Wireless, which includes pay-as-you-go pricing on either per-Mbyte or per-day plans.

If the pricing is anything like Verizon's current per-day pricing, that will be no pleasure.

The little machine encrypts everything so you're not broadcasting your life in clear text every time you walk out of the house, can do 3D media rendering using the new WebGL spec, and has convenience features like the ability to use hotkeys to call up favorite links.

There is, inevitably, a Chrome Web Store with apps, almost all of which seemed to be just links back to other sites.

There are Citrix clients to let you connect ChromeOS to Mac, Linux and Windows machines, and a Trusted Protection Module (TPM) that verifies whether it has been hacked.

It runs on generic PC hardware, though presumably faster, if Google's claims of simpler boot and operation are valid.

The baseline configuration is netbook-like: 12.1 inch screen, Inntel Atom processor, full-size keyboard, USB, SSD, Webcam. It may also have Google's CloudPrint to let you print documents to printers you'll never be able to find in the real world, adn 100MB of data service per month from Verizon for the first two years.

No matter how good it is, a ChromeOS-based PC will almost certainly remain the kind of device used only by a small niche of users in a large company, according to Gartner research VP Chris Wolf.

Though it has some offline abilities, ChromeOS is designed primarily to run from the cloud full time, so it would be appropriate mainly for the kind of task computing help desks, call centers and others on shared-session applications use.

For consumers, assuming it really is as easy to use as Google is projecting and the quality of the hardware isn't so bad it gets shaken apart under normal use, ChromeOS could be a good computer for grandparents, kids or anyone who only needs to browse the Web or work on small documents to be stored online.

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

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