Google Chromebook – better or worse than a laptop ?

I was reading this article today at the NY Times, which offered an amusing introduction to Google Chromebook – the new laptop by Google. The article itself and a lot of comments that followed didn’t seem too impressed. Maybe you like it, maybe you don’t, but you will definitely agree that it is different. How so?

1. It does not run Windows BUT is still targeted towards people who think Ubuntu is …ummm, what exactly is it again?

2. The only thing you can do with it is surf the web BUT it still costs as much as a fully functional laptop.

Sam Grobart ends his NY Times post with this cheeky little note, which might very well reflect your state of mind.

The Common Man : So I would want a Chromebook because …?

Sam Grobart : Good question.

Though the comment above was meant as sarcasm, I believe it is a good question. When I bought my first laptop, I wanted every possible port a device could offer. What if I wanted to connect it to [any magical peripheral device here] ? By the end of its life I had used two, the Ethernet port (for internet) and the USB port (for everything else). The same holds true for the SLR I purchased with great enthusiasm. On most occasions I used two buttons, one that turned the power on and the other that took the picture.

So if you believe Chromebook is useless because regular laptops can do everything it does and much more, think again. When Google first launched its search engine I am sure they looked stupid with one button and one text-box, but look where they are today. And though most people think they want more features, what they really want is more simplicity. Apple and Google are organizations that get this and it is reflected in their products beautifully. Microsoft unfortunately is not one of them and anyone who has worked with Visual Studio can vouch for that ;-)

I use the computer to do three things precisely – write code, blog and surf the web (mail, news, networking). Only the first one, writing code, is something I cannot do on the Chromebook and to be honest something I prefer not doing on my laptop either. The rest of my time I spend reading and writing on the web and I think Chromebook is suited perfectly for those tasks.

So although I am not going to throw away my desktop, I can surely see myself buying a Chromebook instead of a laptop the next time. Not having to learn another Control Panel layout1 and not having to view update messages from every software installed on my machine is reason enough !

1 – Why does Microsoft do that? Am I stupid or does Administrative Services like playing hide and seek?

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Chrome Extensions and Privacy – I’m Scared !

Recently Google introduced Chrome Extensions which are little applications that let you do more with your Chrome browser. Like take this Google Dictionary extension which can tell you the meaning of any word on a website. All you have to do is double-click the word.

Super cool, isn’t it? You just need to Install the Google Dictionary extension and double-click words and meanings will pop up! After you excitedly click “Install”, you get this lovely confirmation box, where things start getting interesting.

All it wants is for you to confirm that this extension will have access to your data on all websites and your browsing history. A little scared? Worried about privacy? Don’t be, Google already knows everything there is to know about you.

Google with its “open” culture allows everyone to create extensions. Developers around the world have already created tons of extensions and people around the world have dutifully downloaded them. See this one from Yoono. It claims to be the most popular extension on Firefox. I should be able to trust it right? But for some reason when the warning pops-up, demanding I allow Yoono to access ALL my web information, I freeze. I just can’t do it.

I decided I will have to be satisfied with extensions developed by Google. We all trust Google. Google’s the good guy. So I decide to Install Speed Tracer.

An even better confirmation message pops up this time. Google now requests access to all data on your computer. Thats right, all my local computer data. The message gives me the creeps! So Google will know everything I do online AND offline. Why don’t they just send me to prison and get over with it!

May be I am orthodox, but the privacy around chrome extensions frightens me, it really does. Until Google can come up with a better privacy policy, I’m definitely going to keep my hands off chrome extensions.

[There is a positive side to this; the extension code is public, so you could in theory review the code. Now, who doesn’t love code reviews?]