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Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

Google Chromebooks: drawbacks and limitations (part 3)

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, Oct 24, 2011 @ 04:00 AM

Guest blog article by Steve Loosley, Tech Blogger

A Google Chromebook is a fast, secure notebook computer that runs only a Chrome web browser. In our first post, we learned that it boots in 8 seconds, updates itself, and delivers unparalleled security. In our second post, we learned the key differences between Chromebooks and traditional notebooks. 

Since a web browser is a Chromebook’s only application, there are some limitations.

Connectivity Limitations

Arguably, connectivity is the biggest drawback: no Internet; no work. Without Internet, you can’t do much.

I say “arguably” for two reasons. First, some models come with 3G, in addition to the standard WiFi, which broadens access. Second, late this summer, Google began rolling out offline Gmail and Google Apps. Functionality is limited, but quickly improving. Chromebooks will soon work offline, all of the way from San Francisco to Beijing.

Software Limitations

The most significant drawback is software. Since standard programs won't run on a Chromebook, some tasks are more difficult than others. Let’s examine this limitation for three groups of users:

Corporate Users

  • Legacy Office data. Longtime Microsoft Office users often have countless Word and Excel files archived, and moving these to the cloud comes at a cost. Unless your a Google Apps customer, a Chromebook may not be for you. 
  • Desktop access. Citrix recently announced beta testing for its Citrix Receiver for Chrome OS, but it requires a server-side host. Google just introduced Chrome Remote Desktop, which looks especially promising! 
  • GoToMeeting. Chrome OS does not support Java, so apps like GoToMeeting will not run on a Chromebook. 
  • VPN. VPN connectivity is limited but developing. 

Higher Education Users

  • Word-centric institutions. If you are required to submit your work as Word files, then you must export from Google Docs, where formatting preservation is improving, but not trouble-free. The same is true for documents with comments. 
  • Word power-users. If you rely on custom keyboard shortcuts and auto-everything, Google Docs may be frustrating.
  • Academic papers. Reference and citation management software, such as Zotero, Mendeley, or RefWorks, currently do not integrate with Google Docs. Formatting lengthy Word documents with MLA or Chicago can be difficult. 

Individual Users

  • Applications. Many applications don’t run in a web browser — Skype, Spotify, and Photoshop, to name a few. Fortunately, this is easy to work around, using web-apps such as Google Talk, Rdio, and Picnik.
  • Standalone email. Email must be read on the web. Stand-alone email applications, such as Outlook or Apple Mail, won’t run on a Chromebook. 
  • Music. Those with large music libraries must either upload their music to cloud-storage services such as Amazon Cloud Drive or Google Music Beta, or they must utilize a web streaming service such as Grooveshark or Rdio. 
  • Video. If your an iMovie-producer, the new YouTube editing features may be inadequate for your needs. 
  • Image editing. Although an image editor is built into Chrome OS, it will never satisfy Photoshop gurus accustomed to working with brushes and layers. 
  • Image storage. Those with large image libraries will want to move their images to cloud-storage services such as Picasa, Flickr, or SmugMug.

To sum-up, if you produce movies, manipulate images, or write technical manuscripts, you probably need more than a web browser. Also, if you run custom desktop applications, web versions may not be offered.

In spite of these limitations, I am convinced that the Google Chromebook is a compelling choice for many today. More and more applications are running in a web browser, and Chromebooks are continuously improving and will soon work even offline. 

The Google Chromebook has a strong future, both for individuals and for corporate and education users. Join the revolution and say, “Goodbye,” to updates, backups, and viruses. What’s holding your back?

What do you think? Does the Chromebook have a future? Who will use it? Will it work for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Additional Resources

Google Chromebooks - Google Chromebook Website

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Topics: guest bloggers, Technology