Last week, Google laid out its vision for the future. At its I/O Developer Conference, Google announced the Chromebook, a new music service and video rentals. Not surprisingly, this future is one where we all use Google services to access all of our digital content. The new Chromebooks are essentially portals to this world. They use the browser-based Chrome OS to quickly connect a user to the web. The web provides access to everything that Google thinks that you need, services like Gmail, Google Docs, Google Voice and the new music and video rental services. Google is selling the concept of the Chromebook by highlighting its speed (boot up speed in particular) and ease of use.
In the promotional video Google asks, “I wonder if people are ready for this; it’s kind of a new thought.” Indeed. Much like what Apple did with the iPad, Google is inventing a new category. The Chromebooks have almost no on-board storage (a 16 gig solid state drive at the most) and they don’t run applications in the traditional sense. Everything is executed through Google’s services and Chrome web apps. Google’s big obstacles will be changing perceptions and behaviors.
The Chromebooks look like netbooks, and for the price tag of $350-$500 you can get yourself a capable notebook that does all of the traditional laptop stuff. People have become accustomed to storing files on their computers; getting users to operate in a 100% cloud-based environment is going to take some time and effort.
Having said all of that, I kind of want one. I’m a firm believer in the idea of cloud computing, and the rise of tablets. Microsoft’s new cloud-based solutions are slowly moving the masses in that direction. In this sense, I share Google’s vision of the future. The question is whether Chromebooks will prove to be a watershed moment in cloud computing or just another false start along the way.