Dirk Knemeyer

Google’s Chromebook and the limitations of cloud computing

Google’s Chromebook and the limitations of cloud computing, May 17, 2011

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

Last week we reported on the first day of Google IO conference, but that was just the beginning. They went on to announce improved Chromebook computers, a new and improved Google TV, and even some robots using the Android OS. The biggest of these stories is the Chromebook. While only an incremental improvement over the previous iteration, this time Google’s marketing messages and collateral are far more sophisticated, making a strong case that you don’t need anything more than a browser for a complete computing experience. For once, I’m not sure what to think. Yes, it is true that much of what we use the computer for is internet based, and yes, more and more apps are web-based and putting our data into the cloud. That is the trend, and there is a lot of influential momentum heading in that direction. But it remains, to this 37 year old, incomplete.

Here are my objections: first, there are some apps that would eat in a browser but are silky-moots on a desktop. Think Photoshop. Think the difference between Microsoft Office and Google’s still-hobbled Google Docs. Now, proponents of the Google strategy will say, correctly, that these gaps are closing every day. So, let’s for the moment stipulate that it is just a matter of time until, for the most part, the app experience difference between web apps and desktop will be solved.

My second objection has to do with connectivity. There isn’t ubiquitous connectivity. There are many places where, absent a web connection, I would be screwed. Such as the conference I was at just this past Saturday and Sunday. Such as the flight I was on Friday. In both of those contexts I got a lot of use out of my lappy despite the lack of connectivity. The necessity of it in Chromebook is a real problem. Now, again, they might just say it is a matter of time till this is solved. Perhaps, but it is still really precarious.

This relates to my third concern, which is all of my data being in the cloud. That just sucks. I want my data where I want it, when I want it, and not tethered to web services. We’ve seen some of the risks of cloud reliance over the last month with the myriad of security breaches and service outages. Again, that just sucks. Give me my stuff, let me work. It’s just some gigabytes, let me use them. So, while Google’s self-congratulatory marketing may turn out to be prescient, I suppose that I will show my age and continue to believe that “always on” computing devices simply are not, cannot be the future of computing. Am I incisive or an old fuddy-duddy? Check back in five years.