Life on-line as Chromebooks go on sale.

Almost 2 years ago Google announced their intention to build a new operating system, this month retail outlets in North America are starting to sell laptops with Chrome OS installed.

At Mibbit we’ve always taken an interest in the ‘network-only’ approach to computing because it fits with our strategy of browser-based, run-anywhere design. (The updated Mibbit Chrome Webstore app is here.) As a replacement for the traditional Windows Desktop this kind of everything-on-the-network system has been tried before and failed to take off (see the Acorn Network Computer, Sun, IBM etc), at that time some felt it was a philosophy to fight Microsoft when sprawling desktops had become too big to manage efficiently, but running all apps over the network failed to stick. So what’s different this time? is there adequate Wi-Fi? has the web-browser grown-up enough that we can leave behind our desktops and chunky laptops forever?

One of the first Chrome OS Laptops (‘ChromeBooks’) is the ‘Series 5′ by Samsung.

This looks like a great little laptop with good design, see a review and video on the link.

What you can do with a ChromeBook is everything online.  Interact with your Social networks, consume documents, video, music, edit audio.  What you can’t do is connect up a mother load of USB peripherals, edit video, compile software or other resource hungry tasks.  As Kevin Purdy describes in his post on lifehacker many people could probably get most of their stuff done online with a ChromeBook. Here he relates working six-days straight entirely from Chrome OS. There were a couple of exceptions, like browser testing, but mostly he got everything done. I don’t think he loaded up any one of the downloadable IM clients and of course Skype, not just yet (Microsoft?), but I was surprised at the number of photo editing apps available too; aviary, picnik are both great to work with.

But what about Windows applications?  In announcements over the past few months Google has made a lot of Chrome OS integration with Citrix.  This gets Windows apps working on ChromeBooks and could be great for enterprises with large Windows installed bases. But for small and medium companies Citrix may be too hard to do and something like the new HTML5 RDP client from Ericom might do just as well if not better.

It looks like you can load up a Windows desktop right inside the browser without any plug-in or extension required.  Nice.

With these new technologies hitting the web there’s a bigger chance that the sheer weight of software engineering will make the ‘network computer’ stick as a popular approach, but some of the limitations will never be fully solved. Putting this to one side what is different now is the public awareness and trust of these systems is much greater.  People do their banking in the cloud and have done for years, billions of dollars are transacted between businesses and consumers using web-browsers to buy products and services every day, the public knows what a web app is and most people can see the difference between Spotify and Amazon CloudDrive – a couple of years ago this wasn’t the case.  The hardware prices should come down for sure – $500 is high – but I expect we’ll see them for under $300 by the end of the year.  So perhaps it’s not the technology which will be the deciding factor, it’s the difference in public perception and renewed trust in web-apps & developers currently in evidence. Given a good bit of this the ChromeBook should succeed.

If you’re using a ChromeBook or the Chrome browser Mibbit has just updated it’s app in the Chrome Web Store, the update makes Desktop Notifications work a lot  better, one of the only apps to do this. If you haven’t tried it click here to get it now. On a side note we’re considering whether the background apps feature might be a useful enhancement, let us know what you think.

For IRC there’s always Mibbit.