Monday, May 23, 2011


I've been fascinated by Google's Chromebooks. They are essentially a computer with nothing but the browser. Since it's only a browser, there are certain hardware set-ups they can have which enable it to boot up fast and use batteries more efficiently. It also means that programs (websites) will always be update to - no need to upgrade. Same goes for the operating system (again, just a browser): Google will automatically push updates to your computer and they will happen almost instantly.

Furthermore, you can straight up buy one for pretty cheap (~$400) or sign up on a business plan contract (3 years @ 28/month, you get a new Chromebook every 3 years and keep the old one, plus the ability to manage each device through a fancy web portal).

That's the what's what on the Chromebook. I've also been lucky enough to receive Google's beta unit, the CR-48. For the last few months I've been using it on and off. I own an iMac, so it's nice to have something portable. For example, yesterday Jessi and I had downtime between our soccer and softball games, so we went to Starbucks and I brought my Chromebook to play on. Last night I showed Jessi a funny Muppets video on Youtube while we ate artichokes for dinner. Then I used it for a little more online research while we were both in the living room. All of this was done on a single charge and it'll probably be a couple of days before I actually plug it in again.

Perhaps my favorite feature is that Google's chat client is built into the browser. So a little window pops up at the bottom of the screen when you start chatting. Then it will stay there no matter which tab or site you switch to. Very, very cool. I would love to see more meta-applications like this.

The CR-48 hardware is only OK (though the new official models should be better). It struggles to run flash and the track pad is still buggy at times. I'm also still bummed that Netflix isn't supported. Even though I have a Dropbox extension so I can see my files, I still miss the ability to actually edit them (I guess the fault would be with Dropbox for it's lack of a usable website). Unfortunately, the web doesn't support a lot of the native apps I currently use and so there's lots of work I can't do. This means it's mostly relegated to a play device for me.

OK. Lots of background. Now my internal debate:

If all this computer is, is a play device. Why not get a tablet, like an iPad? It has the web, plus a bunch of native apps which tend to perform better than the web anyways. The base prices are similar enough (not that I would settle for the base model of course). In either case, a full blown laptop (or desktop) does everything I want - including the ability to use the Chrome browser. One of the benefits Google touts is that they Chromebooks start up fast. It's very true, but my iMac takes less than 30 seconds to boot up. How fast does it need to be?

Then I think about our property management business. One day we'd like to hire somebody (office, maintenance, and/or sales person). What type of computer would make sense for them? Would a tablet work? Would they really need a full blown computer? Does the Chromebook make the most sense? I suppose, if we set up all of our systems to work on the web, then it wouldn't matter. Of course, this begs the question of how to go about putting our system on the web. Do we use off-the shelf SaaS set-ups? Build it ourselves (and what hardware would be needed for that)? Is there value in having everyone on the same type of system, which means taking it to the highest need? Currently, there are a lot of native apps available, not so much for the web.

Lots of questions, not a lot of clear answers. Though the right answer is probably closer to: pick one and be consistent. Then the workflow and tools will be developed around that.

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