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The dawn of a cloud PC?

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Source: Malaysiakini -

Oon Yeoh

(View expressed here is solely the opinion of the source)

You've probably heard the phrase "cloud computing", which has been around for some time now. You might even know that it refers to software as a service delivered through the Internet. But have you ever considered hardware as a service too?

Sounds bizarre? Well it's happening. Google last week unveiled the Chromebook, a cloud-based PC featuring the company's brand new Chrome operating system.

It's aiming to do what Linux and Apple have thus far failed to do, which is basically to replace Windows as the operating system for your PC.
The first PC makers that will be coming out with Chromebooks are Samsung and Acer. The former has already launched a website for this new form of PC.

A new approach

What you can expect is a 10-second boot up time and a web browser interface, from which you can access a host of cloud-based applications. That's it. It's as simple as that. Not the kind of PC experience you're used to, right?

The advantage of this cloud-based approach, says Google, is that not only do you have an uncluttered desktop, no data will be lost if your Chromebook were to get damaged, lost or stolen.

Furthermore, the Chrome operating system will regularly deliver new updates in the background for you.

"When a user turns it on, a Chromebook automatically upgrades itself with the latest features and fixes, so Chromebooks are always running the latest and most secure versions," the company's FAQ says.

"At a fundamental level, this is a very different compute model," Google Chrome senior vice-president Sundar Pichai said. "We think it will grow on people over time. The notion that a device can get better over time is something they will get used to."

A constantly growing PC is not the only revolutionary thing the Chromebook's got going for it. Google will also make available Chromebooks on a subscription basis for businesses, schools and government agencies, starting at US$28 per business user and US$20 per school and public sector user.

"It's software and hardware as a service," Sundar said. The subscription notebooks will be sold directly by Google, and will also be available on June 15, he added.

Because it's very much a web-based approach to personal computing, customers will get a cloud-based management console for IT management and administration of users, devices and software, as well as access to support, warranties and machine replacements.

Google is also launching an in-application payment system for Web applications sold through its Chrome Web Store.

Barriers to adoption

Sounds exciting, right? But there are two big barriers to adoption. The first one has to do with Google's rival Apple whose iPhones, iPods and iPads will not work with the Chromebook.

One would expect most web-savvy consumers - the kind who are Chromebook's ideal target market - would have such Apple gadgets. They are likely to think twice about getting a computing device that is not compatible with them.

The second barrier to entry has to do with Internet penetration. The Chromebook, being a very web-centric device, requires you to be online to make the most of the device. The problem is that even in urban areas like Kuala Lumpur, wireless Internet access is plentiful, but not yet ubiquitous.

Google says that Chromebook will give users offline support for core productivity apps like Google Docs, Google Calendar and Gmail, which can be accessed without Internet access, and that it will continue to offer more offline capabilities with future updates of the OS. How well this actually works is yet to be seen, though.

American consumers will be able to place orders for the Chromebook starting June 15 through and Best Buy. Outside of the US, the machines will be sold by "leading retailers" in the different countries, although the timeline for international releases has not been revealed.



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