Last week, I wrote briefly why the HP Touchpad may be a smart buy. I apologize for another technology article so soon, but it was entirely unexpected. As luck would have it, I currently find myself testing what, in many ways could be considered a competing device, the Samsung Chromebook. It turns out that Google was lending them out on flights from San Francisco to Boston and Boston to San Francisco. The price... everyone's favorite: free. In fact, it came with free Gogo Inflight wi-fi, worth about $13. If nothing else, it would be a convenient way to catch up on the last week of email while I was away.
For those who aren't tech savvy, the Chromebook is a netbook that runs Google's new operating system, ChromeOS. At 3.25 pounds and with a 8 hour battery life, it is perfectly suited for travel. It has Intel Atom processors that have become extremely popular on netbooks. It also has a SD card for bringing your data with you, as well as a couple of USB ports for expansion. The 12-inch screen is extremely bright... so bright that I turned it down to less than half it's full brightness just so I don't blind myself. Other than that, the most noticeable difference is the keyboard. One of the first things I noticed is that there is no delete key. The only way for me to edit text is to go to the end of the word and use backspace on it. In addition it has a couple of keys that I haven't found on other keyboards. There's a magnifying glass that opens up a new web browser tab for searching. That's extremely handy. There is a left arrow and right arrow key on the top of the keyboard. Because I am composing this, I was in a word processing state of mind and figured that it would do something related to that. Nope, they are back and forward keys on the browser. That may be handy as well - once you figure it out.
At this point, you might be wondering why I would compare a Chromebook with the HP Touchpad. One is a netbook with physical keys and USB ports, and the other is a tablet that is half the weight with almost no expansion capabilities. They are alike due to their software philosophy. The HP Touchpad runs webOS, a mobile operating system designed around the idea that the web browser and web technologies is the future. Google's ChromeOS is the same concept using the slogan, "Nothing but the web." HP has announced that they intend to put webOS on netbooks in the future. One would imagine that the result of that would be very similar to the Chromebook. I could imagine Google merging ChromeOS and Android functionality in the future and the result of that would be something very similar to the HP Touchpad.
In the end, I really do buy into the "web is the future" mantra of both platforms. They are on a collision course. The interesting thing to me is that there's a lot of optimism around ChromeOS and a lot of pessimism behind webOS. It's something that I haven't been able to reconcile unless people are not judging the technologies independently, but instead focusing on the companies behind them. I have to give Google a lot of credit for putting the promotion together. Letting people try the Samsung Chromebook while flying - and giving them the incentive of free internet access is a great way to spread the word about a different way of computing.
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