Chromebook Pixel--A laptop for the cloud
One of the challenging things about reviewing Google’s new Chromebook Pixel is that there is not all that much to write about. But I believe that’s the point that Google is trying to make about computing beyond the “thick client” architecture in the world of the Internet and cloud.
The high-end Google Chromebook, like the Chromebooks made by third parties, runs on Google’s Chrome Operating System (OS). This OS is really just the Chrome web-browser, with some additions that let you adjust computer settings within Chrome.
If you want to understand most of what makes a Chromebook tick, download and run the Chrome Web browser on your Mac or PC and look at the Chrome “App” store. I put the word “App” in quotation marks because applications aren’t what you think of on a Mac or PC in terms of thick client applications. On the Chromebook, an application is simply something that runs in the Chrome Web browser. Some of these apps are just bookmarks, but many, like Angry Birds, take advantage of HTML 5 (and Pixel’s touch; more on that later) to create a compelling interactive game.
Leaving software aside, the hardware of the Chromebook Pixel is gorgeous, taking many of its design cues from Apple’s successful MacBook line. At $1,299, it packs an Intel Core i5 processor, four GB of RAM and a 32-GB solid state drive. Included is one terabyte of cloud storage, stored for three years, on Google Drive.
The machine has a very solid feel and a minimalist keyboard. Most impressive is its super high-resolution touch screen. The screen is brighter and has more depth than the high-end retina screens Apple includes on some of its MacBook Pros, and features touch capability, which MacBooks do not.
So hardware-wise you get a lot for $1,299. But $1,299 to run a web browser?!, you may be thinking. After all, you could buy a fully loaded Windows laptop, or well-loaded MacBook for that price, have Chrome, and a mature operating system that could run any number of sophisticated applications.
And this, perhaps, is why Google has made the Pixel – to declare that Chrome OS is all you need in an operating system to do most of what you need to do. Prior to the Pixel, the only Chromebooks were lower-end machines under $500; they were great machines, but had a fairly cheap fit and finish. With the Pixel, Google is claiming that the Chrome Operating System is Serious with a capital “S” – as in $1,299 serious, and worthy of competing with any high-end laptop.
In many ways, in fact, the Pixel is more about the arrival of cloud computing than the Chromebook hardware. With this machine you can use Google Apps to write books, manage
businesses, and create presentations, all within the browser and all without any proprietary plug-ins like Flash or Silverlight. And this is entirely the point. Chrome OS and the applications that come with it are serious apps with serious functionality. You can run your life, and business, in the cloud.
Does it work? If you visit Google, you will notice that most people use Macs, so this revolution is just getting started. But it is beginning. My eldest son loves his Chromebook (not a Pixel!). The public school system in Newton, Massachusetts, gives every student a Google Docs account. If you asked my son what Microsoft Word is, he wouldn’t know. All homework is done in Google Docs, where he can collaborate with his teachers. For him, music is not something to be downloaded in iTunes, but something to be listened to in Spotify. Simply put, for his generation, data is not local; thick client applications do not exist. The Pixel, many years from now, will likely be viewed as the first fully cloud-based computer for consumers – the beginning of a cloud-based revolution.
What do you think? Do you own a Chromebook and enjoy it (or are you frustrated by it)? Is the Chromebook OS a sustainable model for personal computing? Please comment below.