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Google’s New Chromebook Explained

So Google’s made a new laptop?
Not exactly. Samsung and Acer have made new laptops called Chromebooks that run on Google’s Chrome OS. They’ll be available starting June 15 at Amazon.com and Best Buy.

Chrome OS? So, not Windows or Mac.
Not Windows or Mac. Chrome OS is a new operating system.

How does Chrome OS work? Is it majorly different from the other major operating systems?
Chrome OS is actually pretty different. It is basically a browser — and nothing more than a browser. Everything happens in the browser. There’s no “desktop,” and there’s no hard drive for you to use.

This makes no sense to me.
It is pretty radical. Try thinking of it this way: If you use the Web not just for browsing sites but also for your e-mail, and your word processor (think Google Docs), and your photos, and your banking and a whole host of other things, then do you really need all the extra stuff that an OS like Windows and Mac has?

O.K. I mean, I’m sort of with you here, but walk me through this. What happens when I turn on a Chromebook? And what happens after that?
When you turn on a Chromebook, it very quickly (more so than traditional-OS-based PCs) brings you to a login screen. From there, you can enter your username and password for your Google account (if you have Gmail, it is the same account). If you do not have a Google account, you can log in as a guest.
Once you do that, you’ll see a browser. The browser is Google’s own Chrome browser, which Windows and Mac users have been able to use for about two and a half years. There are no other programs or applications to use. The browser is it.

So where are my files?
Well, Chromebooks do have a slot for an optional memory card, and a rudimentary file manager to access saved data there, but the Chromebook’s hard drive is for the OS, not for storing your files.

The assumption is that your files will be stored in the cloud. If you have word-processing documents, you can store those in, say, Google Docs, or Microsoft’s SkyDrive. Your e-mail messages no longer live in an Outlook or Mail application, but on Gmail or Yahoo Mail. Photos are on Picasa or Shutterfly or Flickr.

But there are no other programs?
Not really, no. What there are Chrome Apps, which are kind of like jazzed-up Web sites. So, for example, there is a Google Docs Chrome App, but it is not very different than simply accessing the Google Docs site. There are also games as Chrome Apps, so you can play Angry Birds or Missile Command, but don’t expect heavyweight gaming experiences like Call of Duty.

So all this assumes I have an Internet connection.
Yes. Chromebooks will be sold either with Wi-Fi only, or with Wi-Fi and wireless-data from Verizon.

Wait. So if I’m in a situation where I don’t have an Internet connection, is the Chromebook useless?
Not exactly. Some Chrome apps work offline. Google is saying that Google Docs and Gmail will work offline as well. All games that are Chrome Apps work offline. But make no mistake about it, without a (good) Internet connection, Chromebooks are pretty hobbled.

That seems like it could be a pretty significant downside.
It very well could be. There are some advantages to this model, however. Like with any cloud-based system, your data is not tied to one machine. You can access it from any computer that is online. Your Chromebook will be updated automatically, in the background, so you will always have the latest version of the OS. Chromebooks are faster to start up than traditional PCs, and if your Chromebook should become damaged or go missing, your data is safe, since it was never on the machine itself, but stored by Google on a server farm somewhere.

Yes, but still: No Internet connection means a really compromised computing environment.
Absolutely. It will most likely give many people pause before buying one.

And my files — I am never actually in possession of them, right? The Cloud has them?

Should I be nervous about that?
Not really, but some people may not like the idea that all their data is being maintained by someone else.

Tell me about the hardware.
Initially, there will be two Chromebooks. The Acer Chromebook will have an 11.6-inch display, weigh 2.95 pounds and start at $349 for the Wi-Fi-only model (3G pricing has not been announced yet). Samsung’s Chromebook (called the Series 5) has a 12.1-inch display, will weigh 3.26 pounds and will cost $429 for the Wi-Fi-only model and $499 for the Wi-Fi and 3G model.

But with the 3G models, I’ll have to buy a data plan, right?
Actually, no. Buyers of 3G Chromebooks will get 100 megabytes of data a month free for two years from Verizon Wireless. If you want, you will be able to buy additional data packets on a month-by-month basis for $10 to $50, depending on the amount of data.

That’s nice of them. But let me understand something: Chromebooks are going to cost between $350 and $500, right?

And how much do netbooks cost?
Well, just as an example, Best Buy is selling 15 netbooks from $200 to $530 right now.

And those netbooks, what are they running on?
Windows 7.

Do they have hard drives?
Yes. They range in capacity from 160 to 320 gigabytes.

Are they heavy?
Not really. They weigh between 2.4 and 3.1 pounds.

Do they have really small screens?
Kind of — 10.1 inches is pretty common. Though there are some 11.6 models out there. If you move into the “laptop” category, you can find models with 14-inch screens in the same price range as netbooks.

So, with these netbooks and laptops that cost the same or less, and weigh the same or less, and come with screens bigger and smaller than Chromebooks, I could still do all those cloud-based things you were talking about, but I could also have a full-fledged computer as well?

So I would want a Chromebook because …?
Good question.

Credit: NYTimes