Can Google really reboot the way we use personal computers?

Chrome OS scores highly for computer novices but fails for those who demand a little more from their computers

If you want to revolutionise computing, you have to be bold. When Apple unveiled the original Bondi-blue iMac back in 1998, there were howls of protest at its decision not to include a 3.5-inch floppy-disk drive. "How are we going to cope?" people whined. "What on earth are Apple playing at?"

Apple, of course, was right, forging ahead to a bright new future. But next week Google will make a far bolder move in launching its first "Chromebooks", made by Samsung and Acer.

The machines, which were made available for pre-order yesterday, break all conventions. There's no desktop, just an internet browser window, and their functionality is almost entirely dependent on internet access. There is no software to install, just applications running across the internet – and there's nowhere to store your files.

Well, technically there is – but it's not something Google is crowing about. Because these are machines for the internet age, operating almost entirely in the cloud. Google's operating system, Chrome OS, doesn't just bring cosmetic change; it's beating an entirely new path.

Both the Samsung and Acer Chromebooks are rare in the wild prior to their UK launch, but Google has been touting an unbranded preview machine to demonstrate the functionality of the Chrome OS. Its advantages and its drawbacks both centre around its simplicity. If, like me, you're one of the 160 million people who already use the Google Chrome browser, the look and feel of the display will be familiar. Indeed, once you've signed into your Google account, it's as if you were browsing on your other computer, with all your bookmarks, passwords and extensions intact.

This underlines the benign nature of these computers – they're effectively just shells; sign in to Google using someone else's Chromebook and it'll feel just like yours. All your work is done in the browser window; apps are available from Google's Web Store (many of them for free) for word processing, diary keeping, emailing, photo editing and much else besides, with the obligatory default time-wasting game, a path-building puzzle called Entanglement. The machine feels quick, responsive, relatively immune to viruses, and the battery lasts for a full working day (or a transatlantic flight, depending on your jet-set credentials.)

But while Chrome OS scores highly for computing novices, it fails for those who demand a little more. Photo editing is a case in point: apps require you to upload your images, work on them in the browser, then download them again when you're done – something that seasoned Photoshoppers will find frustrating. You can't connect a printer to the machine directly; you have to use Google's Cloud Print service, which sends print jobs to a machine you've nominated that does happen to have a printer connected.

The main worry, of course, is that without a connection to the internet or a mobile-phone network (if you fork out for the 3G option), you're left with a brick of a machine, with your documents and emails inaccessible.

There are privacy issues too surrounding cloud computing. Google will be vaguely (very vaguely) aware of the kinds of things you're up to – but, on the other hand, it will probably do a better job of looking after your files than you would, so it's swings and roundabouts. The main factor dissuading us from going Chrome right now, however, is probably the cost. Samsung's machine is comparable in price to the iPad, and one wonders why you'd opt for an internet café experience on a laptop over a sleek, touch'n'swipe tablet.

Chrome OS has been hailed as the advent of "cheap, easily accessible computing" – and yes, it does feel like a genuinely new approach, right down to the dedicated "search" button replacing that useless old caps lock key. All we need now is for a manufacturer to sort out the "cheap" bit.

BlackBerry's tablet plays catch-up

If Google's entry to the laptop market represents something new, the shelves of gadget stores are already groaning with tablets. Which makes BlackBerry's arrival to the party rather late.

The Canadian makers of the ubiquitous mobile phones favoured by business people and youths taking advantage of its free chat service are catching up with two iPads, several Samsung Galaxy Tabs and impressive pieces of kit including the Motorola Xoom.

Its offering, the Playbook, goes on sale today from £399, the same price as the rival device from Apple. At 5.1" by 7.6" it sits comfortably in one hand, and is more portable than the iPad.

The casing is slick and although the screen's resolution doesn't quite match up to the iPad, the difference in quality is not noticeable. The Playbook prides itself on the browsing speed it offers, and the claim to bring the "true Web" to tablets is no idle boast. The multitasking feature is attractive and operating the various menus and functions quickly becomes intuitive. The Playbook is aimed at its existing business and consumer customers and the strength of an inbuilt audience is also its Achilles' heel. While parent Research in Motion has promised a family of devices, its first foray into the tablet market is massively hampered if the user does not have a BlackBerry smartphone to attach it to.

Nick Clark

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine