Personally, I use three browsers: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer. I do this because each browser has its own limitations and problems. I've been struggling with the most recent version of Firefox -- it crashes and does other weird things. So I've been using Chrome more as an alternative. But Chrome doesn't have my needed Firefox plug-ins. And it doesn't support RSS. I use each for different tasks. But when I hit a brick wall with both, I use Internet Explorer as my browser of last resort.
Chromebooks wouldn't give you this choice. If Google releases a flawed update, you're stuck with it. If it breaks your plug-ins, too bad. If it doesn't support your favorite website, tough luck.
Besides, if Chrome is so great, why doesn't Google use Android on it?
Internet connections can have problems, too. Both 3G and Wi-Fi have their own sets of challenges. Mobile broadband connections don't connect in many locations. Home Wi-Fi routers can stop working. Of course, these things also happen with regular PCs. And Google is working hard to enable offline browsing. But when my connection is down with a PC, at least I can still use all my applications and files.
Here's the most important thing: The Internet itself can't be trusted to handle 100% of our computing needs.
Google's own Blogger service went down for more than 24 hours this week. To restore service, Google rolled back to an older, backed-up version, which didn't include 30 hours of blog posts for Google's millions of users. As I was writing this column, Google was working to restore the lost posts.
Such disruptions happen all the time, even for cloud-based services that are supposed to be bulletproof. Amazon's EC2 website hosting service -- which exists to provide fail-safe, totally reliable hosting -- experiences catastrophic outages. The most recent outage occurred in April. The glitch took down Foursquare, Reddit, Quora and other major services. It took Amazon four days -- four days! -- to return service to normal.
Cloud computing is great, but only in combination with "regular" computing. The only reliable way to manage data is to store and back up locally, and also to the cloud.
The Chromebook model requires the user to have a fully functional machine, browser, connection and Web services. Without each and every one of these elements working perfectly, a Chromebook is nothing but a tray for serving snacks.
The big question is this: Do you trust Google to keep this program going?