What are Chromebooks?

Chromebooks are stripped down laptops which run Google’s Chrome Operating System (OS). They have very limited internal memory, relying on network connectivity for most functions. For example, your work is primarily saved in Google Drive, not on the device. Similarly, any programs and functions you need are limited to what you can access through a web browser, or Google Apps.

If you rely on any applications which need to be installed directly onto your machine, such as Adobe Photoshop, you can rule out Chromebooks now. However, if you think you can get by with just email, word processing and some basic spreadsheet usage, you might find Chromebooks a valid option.

What advantages do Chromebooks hold over ordinary laptops?

For starters, they’re much cheaper – you can pick one up for around £200. You never have to install any updates, they generally don’t get infected with spyware or viruses, and they don’t get clogged up and become slow. For these reasons, they’re much longer lasting than ordinary laptops. Due to the slimmed down operating system, Chromebooks can boot up in under 8 seconds. There are no programs launching on start-up, and no quick-launch bar full of icons that you never use.

For many casual home computer users, Chromebooks might perform all the functions they need, but business use is more testing.

Working with the Cloud and Google Drive

Chrome OS is designed to be used online. With Google Apps, you can write and edit documents which are saved to Google Drive as you edit. Additionally, you can access and edit these offline and any changes you make will be synced when you go online. You can sign in from another device at another location to continue editing.

If you need to use Microsoft Office, there is the online web application which you can use for editing files without some of the advanced features, and you can also access your Outlook emails.

You can use Gmail when your Chromebook is offline. Your messages will be sent, and any new messages received will be downloaded, when you get back online.

So what are the drawbacks of Chromebooks?

You can’t install programs onto Chromebooks. You’re pretty much restricted to just what you can do within a web browser (which to be fair, is quite a lot, but may not be enough for most business users).

Google Spreadsheets are nowhere near as powerful as Excel, and there just is not a substitute for Photoshop that works with Chrome OS. Your business will more than likely have its own industry specific software that it needs to run, which won’t be possible with Chrome OS.

Windows software won’t run on Chromebooks, but you can use Google’s Chrome remote desktop to access Windows applications running on remote systems.

You can’t plug in a printer either, but that isn’t too much of an issue as long as you have a printer in the office that supports Google Cloud Print.

Are Chromebooks the future?

Chromebooks don’t seem quite ready for business use yet, at least not as a primary device. However, they are great as secondary devices to use on the go. They’re much cheaper and more convenient than ordinary laptops, although they do lack a lot of the functionality.

Chromebooks are really useful for when you just want a quick and easy way to do some simple computing or web browsing. They’re essentially what netbooks were supposed to be, without the bogging down of various programs, anti-virus, and memory intensive operating system.

If your day to day work involves a lot of typing up of documents or articles, sending emails, and internet usage, Chromebooks could be a great alternative when you can’t be at your desk. Chromebooks are not necessarily the future, although they do represent a growing return to thin client, server side computing.