May 12, 2011, 12:32 PM — Yesterday Google announced technical details, ship dates and prices for a new line of laptops it hopes customers will buy without thinking of them as actual computers.
The line of Chromebooks it announced with OEM partners Samsung and Acer may look like laptops, but they're actually windows onto the Internet, where all a user's documents, applications and private, inadequately secured data are kept.
Chromebooks have many similarities with laptops, but the similarities are purely for the convenience of potential customers and the limitations of their simian data-input methods, and narrow data-absorption mechanisms, not because they're important to the Chromebook itself.
Even the Chromebook itself isn't important.
"Your apps, documents and settings are stored safely in the cloud," Google promises in its pitch to customers, ignoring that the words "safely" and "cloud" aren't used together all that often, especially so soon after a days-long downage on the best available public cloud (Amazon) and weeks-long pwnage of one of the most popular (Sony).
"Even if you lose your computer you can just log in to another Chromebook and get right back to work," Google chortles, undoubtedly generating some uncomfortable squirming from Samsung and Acer, which like to think their hardware is more than just a throwaway manual tool for probing something you're really interested in –the IT version of a Q-Tip, not the Personal Computer that brings Information and Power to the People.
The Chromebook is evidence the smug, almost-true triumphalism of the PC industry is a thing of the past, but not that the new almost-true triumphalism of the Internet era is any more true than the earlier tropes.
PCs allowed individual workers to accomplish far more than they did without PCs; they allowed far more access to and control over information, greater speed in business and engineering and almost everything else they touched.
They also cost a lot more, introduced new sets of difficulties and fauxs pas, and consistently failed to live up to the limit of their promise.
So far, so has the Internet, which is widely accessible, but not universally; highly available, but not invariably; incredibly rich in information, applications and ways to communicate with other people across boundaries no one ever thought could be crossed. It does not cross all those barriers, connect every single one of those people or offer information that is unquestionably accurate or infinitely rich.