In mid-December 2010, I was pleasantly surprised when I was selected to receive a free beta prototype of Google’s Chromebook, called the Cr-48. In return, the only thing Google asked of me was that I test the system and let the company monitor my usage so that it could determine what improvements needed to be made. Within the agreement with the company was the restriction that I was not allowed to sell or give the unit away, and in turn, Google would then provide me with free updates (this has recently been done away with) for the life of the machine.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Google Chromebook concept and how the system functions, let me provide a very basic description of the project. Google’s goal in designing the Chromebook was to create a lightweight, small laptop (netbook, or notebook) sized computer that would require less hard drive space. To accomplish the latter, Google planned to store the information in the cloud, thus eliminating the need to store all of the operating software on the computer itself. Additionally, Google was searching for a non-Windows based OS that wouldn’t be plagued by constant infection from viruses, malware, and other annoyances that always seem to plague personal computers using the Windows OS.

So when the Cr-48 arrived, I was excited to try something new and different. I am happy to report that, during the past 17 months, I have found the pint-sized laptop to do what Google advertised. I also found that its Chrome browser performed the required functions quite satisfactorily, however, during this 17-month time period, Google provided numerous updates and fixes to the original operating system. One of the improvements it incorporated was the addition of a file system intended to make the Chromebook more ‘personal computer’ like. As a result, the operating system appeared to offer everything that a busy traveler might need while they were on the road and, as of today, my beta product continues to purr like a kitten.

However — and there is always a however — the Google Chromebook has failed to attract an audience. This is unfortunate because the concept was sound, but there was one problem with the Chromebook: the price. At the time of testing, the production team concluded that the Cr-48 price point shouldn’t exceed $250, but the company refused to follow its advice and introduced the first Chromebooks at a price exceeding what the market would endure, resulting in dismal sales. The timing of the release was also against it since it occurred nearly simultaneously with the release of Apple’s new iPad, which immediately began to sell like the proverbial hotcake.

In retrospect, one shouldn’t have compared the two since I know that I don’t need to explain the overwhelming success of the Apple iPad tablet computer to you and the fact that it is just fun to use. However, one does need to recognize that the Chromebook is not a tablet computer but rather a miniature business/working computer. The Chromebook is perfect, though, for those seeking a superior iOS. I have found it more reliable than any other OS currently on the market, including Windows 8, Chrome OS, or Android. So what strategy or marketing ploy could Google attempt to increase the attractiveness of its Chromebooks?

Well, Google has not been resting on its laurels and, just this last week, answered this question when it released a new and improved operating system for its Chromebook. Until this release, the only change I had noticed was that the new Chrome OS was not being made available for owners of the Cr-48. When I contacted the company to ask why the existing Cr-48s were no longer receiving the promised updates, I got no response. However, since that time, we have been assured by our friends at Google that the Cr-48 would continue to be supported in the future.

So what is all the hype about its new OS? To me, it was obvious when the new Chrome OS appeared to take a step backward into the past. The icons on the desktop — yes, desktop — looked like something from Android and it had included a taskbar at the bottom of the screen similar to what Microsoft has used for years. I believe that the company’s thinking is that, while Microsoft is moving on with its new Windows 8 and a completely revamped Windows experience, Google is providing the consumer with an old friend that they don’t have to relearn.

So why did Google change the appearance of its Chrome OS? One can only ponder the reasoning, but my guesses would be:

  • Improving the ability to access files and folders.
  • Improving the ease of use by providing a taskbar for users.
  • Realizing the fact that the Android’s popularity and the Google Chrome OS’s failure is no coincidence.

So while Google tries to pick itself up by its bootstraps, one must wonder if the idea behind the Chrome OS was sound to begin with. On the other hand, one could also ask if the concept for the Chrome OS was just too far ahead of the times and people were not ready for an entire cloud computing experience. To see this as a possibility, one only has to remember why Microsoft’s first tablet flopped, whereas Apple’s iPad has become synonymous with the word tablet.

What is your take on the Google Chromebook?

Comments welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by blubrblog