What I’ve Learned With the Cr-48

As most of you know, some time ago Google sent along to me one of their Cr-48 computers, the computer being a test bed to try out Google’s Chrome operating system, in which nearly everything one does is cloud-dependent — that is, in order for it to work, you need to have Internet access all the time. I tried using the Cr-48 to write a novel, with limited success (by which I mean I eventually gave up and migrated the novel to my desktop), and have otherwise used it as my primary laptop, with a bit more success. Now is a good a time as any to catch you all up with my thoughts on the computer and the Chrome OS, and cloud computing in a general sense.

1. First, on a personal note, I have decided that the form factor of the Cr-48 is just about perfect for me, in terms of laptops. I have a 10-inch Acer netbook, which is nice for traveling but really is a little too small in terms of screen real estate, and a 15-inch Toshiba which is nice on a desk but less so on a lap. So the Cr-48, with a 12-inch screen and weighing in at under four pounds, is very much in a sweet spot for me: large enough that I don’t feel like I’m virtually hunched over, light enough that carrying it around won’t give me bursitis.

2. I also very much like the way Google has configured the keyboard, and I think laptop manufacturers should take a look at what Google has done here. In particular, replacing the All Caps key with a search function key now means there’s a large key on the left side of my keyboard that I will actually use, rather than get annoyed with when I accidentally hit it instead of “shift.” The top row of function keys are also nicely reimagined and generally more useful to me than the function keys on other laptops. I do understand that I can remap the keys on most computers these days to do what I want them to do, but people who are not complete nerds and don’t want to geek around remapping their keyboards would probably appreciate the changes Google has implemented.

3. I find the Chrome OS nicely implemented, in that it stays out of one’s way, and what it does, it does well. It’s got relatively few tricks (more on that) but the tricks it has are nicely done. And I have to say I really like the fact that it is almost instantly on — after working with Chrome, going back to waiting for Windows 7 to boot up on my Acer netbook feels like waiting for a train of slow-moving snails to pass by so I can get to work. “Instant On” is, basically, the way a laptop experience should be, end of discussion.

4. BUT. At the end of the day, I have my doubts that a cloud OS is going to be the way to go. I see two major problems.

First, with Chrome OS, at this point in time, there’s not enough there there. You do have Google’s suite of online apps, which range from excellent (GMail, for me) to not quite there (Google Docs, which is fine for small projects but is not wholly baked when it comes to writing long-form work), but after that it gets sketchy fairly quickly, with the iffy Chrome Web store with its equally iffy apps. As a practical matter, you have to rely on online-based programs and applications, and as good as many of them are, if you’re a power user in one or more fields (in my case, writing and image editing) then you’re going to miss the features of powerful computer-resident programs and/or will quickly get annoyed with inherent speed/access issues involving sending information and instructions up into the cloud and waiting for the response.

Which is the second thing: A cloud-based OS might make excellent sense for someplace like South Korea, which has a magnificently speedy online infrastructure, which blankets the entire (relatively compact) country from one end to the other. In the United States (and Canada), where the broadband wireless and wifi access is relatively slow and full of all sorts of holes, gaps and dead zones, what you end up having is a computer that may or may not be a paperweight a non-trivial portion of the time. To its credit Google addresses this by having a Verizon radio built into the computer, which one can activate and have access to 100MB of free data over the Verizon network. But this really is the computing equivalent of one of those tiny spare tires that you’re supposed to drive on only long enough to get to a repair shop.

Personally what I end up doing, if I’m not near a wifi signal, is tethering the Cr-48 to my Droid X, which is a wifi hotspot. But even that is contingent; a hotel I was in recently apparently lined its room walls with lead, for all the signal I was able to get out of the place. If you’re not online with the Cr-48, you’re not doing much.

So in the end while I’m enjoying my Cr-48, I don’t really think of it as a fully functional computer. I think of it as an appliance to access the Internet, with a nice keyboard thrown in so I can type more easily than I can on the iPad (my other Internet appliance). I’ll take it with me when I travel, but only if I know I don’t have to do any really serious work outside of e-mail and posting online.

Which of course may be perfectly suitable for many if not most people — if your computer use is primarily wrapped up in e-mail, Facebook and finding things online, then a cloud-based OS might be awesome for you, not to mention the “instant on” joy that the Chrome experience provides. But I do actually use my computer for things besides being online. So for me, the Cr-48 and the Chrome OS aren’t there yet. I still need dedicated programs on my computer, accessible whether I have an online connection or not. Which is why I strongly suspect my next laptop computer will still have an “old fashioned” OS, and enough storage for the programs I need (and the files those programs create) resident on the machine.

61 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned With the Cr-48

  1. I’ve reached the point in my life where my computer purchases are driven by “what is it good at?” and “do I want to be able to do that?” Which means a pc, an x-box, a netbook, an book reader, and an iPhone right now. I’ll probably add a tablet sometime this year, but probably not iPad. I’ve already deteremined it’s too locked down for what I want to do in that size and I’m willing to live with the wonkiness I’ll probably encounter with another brand..

    The Cr-48 or something sounds like it would be a good replacement for the netbook if I decide I need to replace it, since I don’t do anything local with it. But that would be a post-tablet replacement anyways.

  2. If a very light 12″ laptop is ideal for you, why not get a MacBook Air? It’s a “real” computer and plenty fast. Not cheap, though. If you must, it will even run Windows 7, although this requires a reboot.

  3. Thanks for the info. Something I recently brought back from the dead is an old PowerBook 12″. Like you mentioned above, the screen size is in the sweet-spot for taking around for writing on the fly, and for me the non-Intel processor means that I have now limited my entertainment options away from Netflix (my personal writing kryptonite). It is simple, runs well on Mac OS X 10.4, and has plenty of options for writing resources.

  4. They sent me on on Feb. 3rd, after I had totally forgotten about applying.

    It does everything I want it to do when I’m out and about, but I always go back home to my desktop with its 1tb drive and 21″ monitor.

    So, it’s kinda like a mistress.

    I think I lost my train of thought somewhere in there…

    Oh, yeah, I remember: HOLY CRAP, GUYS, GOOGLE SENT ME A FREE LAPTOP!!!11!ONE!

  5. I think at some point I’m going to pick up a cheap 3 or 4 year old netbook and stick Jolicloud on it. Should be cheap to find one, nicely portable, and that level of hardware should run just fine under Joli.

  6. I find largely the same things. I can use Picnik to edit photos to some extent, and there are decent IM options that are web-based, but I like going back to my desktop now and then. The programs there have more spit & polish and do more. I really like the Cr-48 as a take-along, and I use it a lot while sitting on the couch in front of TV. It doesn’t make my desktop obsolete or any less pleasant to use.

  7. Same arguments I looked at when I was thinking about getting an iPad. any computer I have needs a keyboard and the capacity to run Word so I can write on it, end of story. I wound up buying a netbook instead of an iPad and the netbook is still more useful to me than a CR-47 would be.

    The netbook is great for short trips, but I can’t run Visual Studio, Photoshop or Illustrator on it–I can’t create production artwork or program anything–and that means I still need a real, old skool laptop if I’m going away for any length of time.

    These ‘appliance’ devices need a lot more grunt before they’re going to be of any use to me.

    — JF

  8. I am not sure if this makes me sound like a ‘you damn whippersnappers need to get off my lawn or I am getting my shotgun’ old timey grump, but I just can’t get behind the concept of a cloud based computer/operating system. Yeah, I spend lots of time on the internet, but there just is times when it is nice to do offline work. We’ll see in a few years if I am just flipping the finger to technological progression or not. I sense it might end up being a fad like 3D TVs and brushing your teeth. Wait, what? The internet is here to stay, but I don’t see the need for everything to be based on it — or at least, not until some apps and online sites can compare or excel offline software.

  9. Thanks for the great writeup.

    I must say, I want to love Google Docs but it’s just not man enough for me. I can’t kick Office out of the bed yet.

  10. I really understand these results. And if you contrast them with other computers? Well.

    I recently replaced my desktop with an Asus laptop. 13.3″ screen, i3 processor, dedicated graphics with the cool Nvidia automatic switch to turn it off when not needed (saves battery). I haven’t dumped tons of “load on start” programs onto it, so it boots in about 30 seconds with Win7. Not instant on, but not bad. Gets over six hours of battery life. Weighs under five pounds. Good typing keyboard, lots of USB slots, has a DVD drive…$650

    I guess I really don’t see the point, with laptops this good available, in going with a computer that becomes a brick without WiFi.

  11. I put an SSD in my ultra-light Thinkpad — boots in under a minute and does really awesome stuff. Even connects to the internet! Weighs 3 pounds, lives in a docking station when at home, with a big-ass monitor and real keyboard. I agree that data transfer rate limitations and necessarily scaled-down applications will forever limit the usefulness of the cloud.

  12. MacBook Pro 13″. You can actually disable the bleeping caps-lock key! Photo management, music management, yadda yadda. Textedit sucks, but Pages is awesome, and is now available from the Mac Apps Store as a stand-alone instead of as part of the I-Work Suite.

    At my job I work on Windows, hate the guts out of it. Easy chair, laptop, I’m golden.

  13. I’ve got an old Powerbook pro for traveling purposes. It’s a bit kinked because I abused to nigh death (but hey, it only got dented instead of broke when it fell down the stairs!), but I love the little bugger. It used to start up instantly too, but I’m afraid the processor is on its last legs. When it gives out, I’m gonna get a MacAir.

    At home I have its big brother, ideal for all the image editing I do and I wouldn’t want to miss Scrivener. Since it plays WoW too, there’s nothing I miss.

    So yeah, Apple owns my dark, little soul and I’m happy with it.

  14. Carina, wasn’t familiar with Scrivener, just googled it; looks great. Thanks for the heads-up.

    A word of warning to potential Mac owners – if you indulge in ‘recreational herbology’ stay away from the Visualizer! You will die horribly! I’m glad I didn’t have this in the hazy 70’s ;-)

  15. Thanks for the write-up. I’ve been curious about the Chrome OS, although I am REALLY reluctant to trust the cloud. The idea of a computer that 1) requires a net connection all the time and 2) requires my data to be saved offsite in someone else’s control (granted most of us do that NOW but I’d rather it be a choice) is not my idea of a happy fun time.

    My next computer upgrade will be a laptop and like you, form factor will be key. My old 17 inch widescreen was too much of a beast to take anywhere. In the meantime, I picked up a tiny eeePC used for cheap and like you I find it small, but once I got used to it it works passably well.

  16. Interesting results. I agree with the lack of availability for everpresent WiFi. I would also be able to tether to my Android phone, but there’s still a few places where that’s not viable either.

    If you want full laptop power with “instant” on consider a MacBook(Pro)?. I open the lid and by the time my hands are on my keyboard to type my password, it’s ready for me. Close enough to instant in my book. Newer models last a long time in hibernation as well. Various solutions if you have to have windows as well. I use VMWare Fusion and usually leave a virtual desktop with XP running full screen.

  17. So what happens when you accidentally hit Search instead of Shift? Is it less annoying than hitting Caps Lock?

  18. I’m considering a netbook myself, later this year, because my laptop at 17″ is great for a desktop, less so for traveling with. Jolicloud intrigues me (since I’m also a Linux geek), but I’ll do some more research to see what other options there are…including just a regular old Linux OS.

  19. John, You might look at the MacBook Air which has a similar form-factor. Yeah, I know you got this free and Apple’s unlikely to match that deal. The Air’s already out in the market for some time now after all. But if you find yourself in the market, it’s a nice sized machine.

  20. You can get “instant on” in netbooks the same way you get “instant on” for cellphones… instead of completely powering down, use “sleep” or “hibernate” mode. These days, “sleep” doesn’t consume that much battery life compared with the total capacity.

    (My 7″ Windows tablet has a 128GB SSD, and it’s very peppy coming out of “sleep”. Hibernate, though, not so much and that puzzles me.)

    — Steve

  21. I don’t understand all this caps-lock hate. As a programmer I use it all the time – it would cripple my typing speed if you took it away.

  22. As a plain Internet terminal, I could not be happier with my Cr-48. Instant-on, excellent battery life, light, well-proportioned, and the dev-channel builds have mostly fixed the trackpad’s problems. It is excellent for the sort of person who likes browsing the Web and/or searching for things on the spur-of-the-moment.

    I don’t use Google Docs or have a need to play media files with it, so Docs’ failings aren’t a bother. I did have to use a work-around (Subsonic) to let it play my music collection, since Chrome OS doesn’t support fileshares, but it’s a good work-around.

  23. Dave H @ 19:

    You’ll open up a new tab.

    Anton @ 22:

    Chrome OS’s instant-on is /so much faster/ than Windows 7’s resume from sleep or hibernate on my 11.6″ Acer super-netbook. It’s like five seconds for the former and 20+, not counting reacquiring the wireless connection, for the latter.

  24. re #23 – Pete, inadvertently tripping the caps lock button while composing text is seriously annoying. Disrupts the creative mind-set. (Not all writers can type worth beans…)

    I like the switch-the-damned-thing-off versatility of Mac OS-X ;-)

  25. My main issue with any OS relying on cloud computing has less to do with trying to stay away from the distraction known as “teh interwebs” and more to do with my paranoia of “omg DSL is down again.” Even though I only use my iPhone on WiFi instead of paying AT&T, if my DSL goes out I can at least still play games/take pictures/write notes etc.

  26. waiting for Windows 7 to boot up on my Acer netbook feels like waiting for a train of slow-moving snails to pass by

    Just an FYI on this particular point.

    (1) Windows booting is slow mostly because the harddrive is slow. Magnetic drives have to spin around to the right sector and move the head up and down to find the right track. Solid State Drives (if done well) can be 10 to 50 times faster on data rates. This translates into an application loading 5x to 10x faster with an SSD than with a mag drive.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/2614/13

    If windows currently takes you 30 seconds to load/boot witha magnetic drive, then switching to a good SSD might reduce your windows load time to maybe 5 seconds. Friend of mine has an SSD and it boots windows faster than his DVD player boots. The windows splash screen (on windows 7, its that little animated graphic where the four colored panes come together to form the WindowsTM logo) actually becomes the long pole in teh tent. He can boot his system, and the HDD light goes off while the graphic is still playing. It would boot faster, but he hasn’t found a way to disable the splash screen.

    (B) if you want to get an SSD, make it your boot drive, install windows on it, and then have a second drive for your large data files, photos, video, etc. SSD’s are expensive on a per/gigabyte basis.

    (III) Anandtech has shown that pretty much the only company that makes an SSD worth a damn is Intel. This is because flash memory needs to be handled differently than magnetic disks and needs a different kind of controller. Bad controllers basically get slower as you fill them up. Really slow. Like 10x slower than a magnetic disk. Intel has a SSD called the X25-M which has a controller that manages flash erases and keeps the drive fast even as it fills up.

    (gripping) Intel is coming out with the next generation of SSD’s like this month or the next month or so. They’re bigger, cheaper GB/$, and faster than their previous generation. So you may want to wait for them to get on the market.

    (fin) If you really want to max otu your system, Intel’s new Z68 chipset should be available in May this year. It is supposed to have hardware that allows you to have a magnetic drive and a solid state drive working as a cache of the magnetic drive, and it looks like a single letter drive tot he operating system. This would give you the speed of a SSD but the large storage of a magnetic drive. So, if you’re looking to upgrade your system, maybe wait until the new SSD’s are available from Intel, and the new Z68 chipsets/montherboards are available too.

    I’ve been researching for a new system to replace my desktop that died in December. I’m waiting till May to get thenew chipset and SSD, and I’m using a junker laptop until then.

  27. What you’re complaining about is the whole idea behind the computer.
    In the very first video the chrome people put out, within the first 30 seconds, they said “for people who live on the web”. It’s a WEB browsing computer, and it does it VERY well.
    It does EXACTLY what it’s supposed to do, people complaining seem to forget the whole idea behind the machine.
    It’s not for graphic design, it’s not for gaming, it’s not for sound mixers, it’s not for office networks, it’s for WEB BROWSING.

  28. uesnyc:

    “It’s a WEB browsing computer, and it does it VERY well.”

    Well, no, it’s not just a WEB browsing computer. In your haste to lecture people about what the Cr-48 IS REALLY FOR, you’re eliding that whole part where Google offers up a large suite of cloud-based applications for people to use, and others offer up other services as well. When Google points out that the machine is for people who live on the Web, it’s not suggesting that YOU ONLY USE IT FOR WEB BROWSING, it’s making the argument that you can live on the Web, in a more or less fully functioning way, thanks to the ecosystem of cloud-based applications and so on.

    Google’s thesis, at the moment, is incorrect. As is yours, uesnyc.

  29. I’ve had mine for a month. I’ve found the Cr-48 works better for the office (I’m using it right now!), and my MacBook is better suited for browsing, video, etc at home. I’m starting to prefer the Cr-48 for writing articles or short stories, but I’m not sure about a long-haul project. It’s a fantastic work computer (trackpad issues aside) if you can get by on Google Docs, but at this point I don’t think many people would want it to be their only machine.

  30. Pete: “I don’t understand all this ß key hate. As a German I use it all the time – it would cripple my typing speed if you took it away.”

    In other words, if you are not a programmer (I am, as well), a scriptwriter, or a MY SYSTEM RUL3Z!!!!!!11!!ONE! person, caps-lock is hit accidentally (unlocking ones screen, even, never mind the rest of the time) much more often than it is used or wanted. And even programmers, if they are emacs users, will switch caps-lock and Ctrl on their (non-Sun) keyboards, because of the frequency of use.

    Programmers and scriptwriters are a very minor fraction of the computer world, and anything that makes the third category’s life harder is a good thing, I say. Sort of like Google saying “on-web Google Docs is a replacement for Werd.” Yeah, unless you write for a living, or are a power Word user. So what if that’s only 0.1% of the population?

    Well, actually that’s the problem with the CR-48 from where I see it. there’s that 0.1%. 0.1% are like us and need the caps-lock key. 0.1% need a Real Spreadsheet the way John needs A Real Text Editor. 0.1% (of the American population) need easy access to pinyin->simplified character translation. 0.1% need… There are enough niche applications that “general apps” of the cloud are just not capable (yet, but likely ever in some cases, and the cases just keep coming…) of handling that say 15, 20% of the target market is going to hit one of them. And unfortunately, they’ll almost all be the “do more than just use it as a communication/playing tool” (i.e. “computer is a web browser”). Which is Google’s target market. And so…

  31. Eventually there will be an app that will take input from your keyboard and configure it to whatever you need — need a CAPSLOCK key? There’s an app for that. Need specialized characters? There’s an app for that. You won’t need to remember combos of keys, just map them to wherever you need them, including those weirdass Dvorak keyboarders ;)

  32. John, it really doesn’t work at all without a live Internet connection? Isn’t that kind of insane? What do you do on an airplane? I though there was some kind of caching or something. What a shame.

    I think the future of personal computing eventually is going to be at the intersection of Chrome OS, the Motorola Atrix 4G with its various docks, and gobs of stuff from Apple hardware and software. One tiny computer with all the storage, computing power and connectivity you need in your hand but able to morph into other form factors (laptop, TV box, desktop, ereader) smoothly as you desire. That requires some cloud-based magic but it cannot work only when connected to the net. That’s crazy talk.

  33. Further to your comment on the Caps Lock key – annoys the hell out of me so the following entry disables it:
    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Keyboard Layout]
    “Scancode Map”=hex:00,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,02,00,00,00,2a,00,3a,00,00,00,00,00

    cheers

  34. I think you all may be missing the point. This sort of netbook would be cheap–probably really cheap. Would you buy one at $299? What about $199?

    It would protect your data. Would you buy a computer you can give to your kid that would not lose one byte of data if they broke it?

    I does not need Apple or MST.

    My guess: Google is thinking more along those lines than being another Powerbook.

    -m

  35. re # 37 by Mike

    “”the Caps Lock key – annoys the hell out of me so the following entry disables it:
    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Keyboard Layout]
    “Scancode Map”=hex:00,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,02,00,00,00,2a,00,3a,00,00,00,00,00″

    In ‘Apple-ese’ thats System Preferences>Keyboard>Modifier keys>No action

    ;-)

  36. This sort of netbook would be cheap–probably really cheap. Would you buy one at $299? What about $199?

    cheap laptops are really cheap right now. all chrome hardware saves is a harddrive replaced with a flash device to load a thin slice of software to get on teh web.

    It would protect your data. Would you buy a computer you can give to your kid that would not lose one byte of data if they broke it?

    Anyone seriously worried about data loss has a raid5 nas device. I have one at home. It’s plugged into my router, so all my compters can access the files. I have trained my wife not to put *anything* into “my docs”, but to click through the link in “my docs” and put things there, which ends up on the raid device. The local harddrive is only for installed software. everything else gets raided.

    At the very least, by a terabyte USB harddrive and backup the important stuff every once in a while. A nas device can do it automatically for you.

    optical discs would be OK, except they stop working after N years.

    It does not need Apple or MST.

    But it absolutely needs Google. Google decides to get out of the cloud business, or change how they pay for it, or do anything annoying, and the chrome box becomes a doorstop.

    The only thing this device does is it removes the need for a local harddrive and harddrives are cheap. It *might* reduce the need for a powerful CPU, but, really, moore’s law being what it is, powerful CPU’s aren’t that big a deal. At least powerful enough. I can surf the web on my phone with an ARM11 processor. I can edit documents. play games. whatever.

    I think this chrome deal is a niche for people who just want basic access and don’t want to deal with whatever hassles come with a PC.

    I don’t see the chrome box solving any significant tradeoff problems because a cheap laptop is cheap. It’s more ease of use solution than anything else. Maybe when the singularity strikes and we all want to jack in to that big AI in the sky, then sure, whatever you have on yoru desk can’t compare to the sentient cloud. But until then, I don’t see it solving any technical tradeoff conundrum.

  37. It sounds to me like the strengths of this machine may be better suited to a tablet format that is more about portability and convenience than productivity. Plug that baby into a portable keyboard and away you go. Something for Google to keep in mind perhaps??

  38. Thanks for the post mortem John. It’s about what I would expect and honestly the pure cloud computer will always remain a niche I think. There are plenty of lightweight laptops in that size range and instant on isn’t a big deal if your OS reliably sleeps and wakes. My Macbook does, so I don’t ever power it down. I imagine Win 7 is good at this too. So, if I can get instant on effectively, what’s really left? I can use the Chrome OS apps in Chrome The Web Browser. Plus I can use desktop apps locally. So I get more without giving up the could access for things that I want to live in the cloud. The either/or mentality of the “the cloud is useless/live 100% in the cloud” camps misses this point – for a very reasonable price, one can have all of the CR-48’s advantages and none of the downside.

  39. That sounds a lot like what I basically expect from the Cr-48 at this juncture. Not… quite… there.

    But I think that Rick@43 is likely wrong. A “pure” Cloud Computer (actually, one that has some local storage but is transparent in its use of that so that it looks like it’s all on the cloud) is not practical for most people now. I think it is practical for a large enough group of people right now that it will drive additional development work, and in 5-10 years, I expect to see most of the problematic areas of the Cr-48 go away or get much more polished.

    I think that there will, for the forseeable future, be a market for heavy-weight computers, both laptop and desktop, but I think that the population that is well-served by a cloud computer is going to grow and grow and eventually become a majority. Again, in 5-10 years.

  40. But even that is contingent; a hotel I was in recently apparently lined its room walls with lead, for all the signal I was able to get out of the place. If you’re not online with the Cr-48, you’re not doing much.

    Heh. Funny you should say. I frequently find myself staying at the Inn at Price Tower — which is very, very cool, being a hotel in the only skyscraper ever built from a design by Frank Lloyd Wright, but Wright was an odd sort, and this building is *festooned* with copper, copper everywhere, inside and out, and so even though they theoretically have wireless there…. nah, it dun’ work. They have ethernet cables at the front desk. I’ve stayed there often enough now, I bring my own. They love me there.

    I’ve never had a problem getting a cell signal, though.

  41. Jeremy @#5; Load up that 12″ Powerbook with RAM and it will run 10.5 like a champ. I support a couple hundred Macs and I keep my old 12″ Mac lappy around since it has a freakin’ Firewire port that I require for tech work and is unavailable on any more modern 11-13″ Mac laptops.

    And seeing as how a tornado ripped through town yesterday and I’ve been without power or network at home ever since, a cloud-based machine would be an anchor right now.

  42. Tuttle, the current MacBook Pro’s all have a Firewire 800 port. Get an 800/400 adapter and smile ;-)

  43. I have a 13 inch Sony laptop that weighs 3 lbs and has an SSD drive, so not only does it start up fast, every program I run starts up instantly. Now, my laptop isn’t as cheap as a something like the Cr-48 would likely be, but as SSD’s come down in price, it’s hard for me to see how a cloud computer is going to survive being squeezed out by laptops. To me, it’s like X-terminals all over again (for those of you old enough to remember X-terminals.

    I’d just have to reprogram the keyboard of the Cr-48 to replace the search key with the ctrl key, since I’ve been putting the ctrl key in that spot on every keyboard I’ve used for the last 20+ years, but then I am a geek.

  44. @44 – I’m not disputing a pure cloud solution can be done, but that it makes sense. I can do everything John can do on the CR-48 using the Chrome browser on my laptop. Plus i have local storage, a local OS and local apps. It’s pretty easy to find a decent laptop, new, for under $500 so cost isn’t really an issue except at the margins. Right now, the CR-48 is less capable than a regular laptop but doesn’t give the user anything in compensation. instant on is a trivially easy thing to get either via a reliable sleep/wake implementation or SSDs. What else is a compelling reason to use a cloud-only computer? Nothing right now. Might that change? Sure, it might. But until it does, I can’t see going with something that only does less.

  45. Rick: You are clearly right that a non-cloud computer can do pretty much everything that a cloud computer can do, and then some. This is the reason why I say that non-cloud computers are going to be around for some time to come.

    I think that our disagreement can be summed up with your phrase, “for under $500 so cost isn’t really an issue except at the margins.”

    I expect consumer-type cloud computer laptops to get down to very much less than $500, and for consumers to be sensitive to the cost savings of a cloud computer versus a traditional laptop. I think that in 5-10 years, the average consumer will be saying, “I could buy a cloud computer laptop for maybe $150-$250, or a non-cloud computer laptop for maybe $300-$400. It is certainly the case that the traditional laptop can do a superset of what the cloud laptop can do. However, I don’t really care about any of the extra capabilities of the traditional laptop, and I want to save $50 to $100.”

    (I think there’s a small but real chance that cloud laptops will cost $50-$100 instead of $150-$250.)

  46. We’ll have to disagree. I doubt that most middle class buyers will care much about the difference between $150 and $300 but will, the first time they run into a cloud limitation, care very much about the difference between having a computer that *requires* the cloud vs one that leverages it heavily.

    I’d agree with you for secondary computers… things lying around the house, used to surf the web… Except that tablets will take that niche. So you have a world where lowend, surf the web, check Facebook, bring up the Netflix queue stuff is on a tablet and where actually work stuff that needs a laptop form factor can be done by a $300 laptop. I don’t see much left over for the cloud laptop in that world.

    Note, btw, that I said no one will care about cost differences like that except at the margins… there will be a few people who might be cash poor enough that the money is important to them and who nevertheless have highspeed wireless internet available somehow – but that’s a marginal case to me.

  47. I, too, got a CR-48 last month. I am more than pleased with it for all the reasons that Mr. Scalzi covered (and more). I am very much the target demographic for this machine: I try to do as much as possible on the web because I like having my data and apps ubiquitously available.

    That said, the fact that it is currently useless when offline is definitely a joy-kill. But Google have promised that they intend to restore the offline capability that various Google apps lost when they did away with Google Gears. As Chrome OS matures, I imagine other apps will be able to take advantage of the offline features to some extent.

    There are some other hurdles the OS has to overcome. For instance, I can’t get behind my company’s firewall because the VPN software doesn’t run on Chrome OS. I imagine it will be quite a while before the companies behind such utilities feel any need to see that their stuff runs on Chrome.

    One final point concerning price: I strongly suspect that Google will so heavily subsidize Chrome OS devices that they will be practically free.

  48. Replying to Greg (and anyone else interested in SSDs) –

    I’m an IT professional, mostly a systems architect but I dabble in hardware, am an (the?) expert on bridging the IT reliability / dependability research community and the practical systems architecture / operations dependability / reliability community, etc.

    I would not put any important data on a SSD. They’re not as reliable as the vendors say.

    I say this as someone who routinely goes to the FAST storage conferences and EASY reliability conferences, talks to the academics who are testing things, and as someone who burned out a major name brand SSD in seven months in a test rig.

    SSD with a hard disk as a permanent backup medium behind it? Fine. SSD without any backup, at home or mobile? Not fine.

  49. I know I’m not the first old fogey to observe that what the whiz kids call “the cloud” looks an awful lot like a mobile version of a mainframe with dumb terminals.

    Wrt Caps Lock, I’m neither a programmer nor a screenwriter and I use it all the time. What is needed is a simple, easy way to shut down or reconfigure keys, not a quirk of changing the standard keyboard layout because, dude, *I* never use that key.

  50. mythago:

    There is an easy way to re-map what your alt, control, and search keys do on Chrome OS, and that includes making the search key Caps Lock again.

    Just out of curiosity, why /do/ lawyers insist on writing certain things in ALL CAPS?

  51. SSD with a hard disk as a permanent backup medium behind it? Fine. SSD without any backup, at home or mobile? Not fine.

    I think that could be further generalized to “back up all your data, regardless of media”. My computers at home store all their data on an external NAS raid5 drive. The harddrives in the computers themselves are strictly for operating system and program installation. If a drive in a PC crashes, I just get a new drive, and reinstall Windows7, and whatever software was installed on it, such as OpenOffice.

    Given that approach, changing out the magnetic drive to SSD and reinstalling Windows7 and applications to get a boot time down to a few seconds, risks no irretrievable data.

    Also, Anandtech just published an article about a new Intel SSD now available, including discussions of reliability here:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4202/the-intel-ssd-510-review/3

    Quoting one of the relevant bit: “The likelihood that you’ll wear out all of your NAND within the next 5 years is very, very low. However I will say that when faced with enterprise workloads you’re going to have to pay much closer attention to write amplification and spare area than you would on say a SandForce drive.”

    If you’re doing enterprise servers, SSD’s might not be a great solution just yet.

    Lastly, depending on how the Z68 hardware implements SSD caching, this may all be moot. If the Z68 puts all the data on the magnetic drive and uses the SSD only as a cache, then SSD failure should be completely transparent other than a slow boot the first time you put a replacement SSD in.

    Still need to backup your data though, but it would completely remove any issue specific to SSD reliability. It becomes a cache to the magnetic drive, but looks like a single letter drive to the OS.

  52. Google have promised that they intend to restore the offline capability that various Google apps lost when they did away with Google Gears. As Chrome OS matures, I imagine other apps will be able to take advantage of the offline features to some extent.

    Doesn’t that mean the hardware is really a laptop? If you can store data and run applications offline, you’re going to need more than just flash to boot into the cloud. At which point, I don’t see how the hardware is any cheaper than a cheap laptop.

    One final point concerning price: I strongly suspect that Google will so heavily subsidize Chrome OS devices that they will be practically free.

    Cellphones do this, recouping the cost of the phone through inflated monthly calling plans. Printers do this, recouping teh cost of the printer through inflated ink cartriges. Google could give the chrome hardware away for free and recoup the cost of the hardware through an overinflated monthly subscription. Of course, if they give the hardware away for free, they’ll likely have an “early termination fee” and minimum contract length.

    Any company that can lock you into a subscription model can give the hardware away for free and make up for it on monthly fees. At that point, the chrome hardware could be a standard laptop costing as much as any other laptop, but Google sells it not on being better than a laptop, but as having no big up front cost.

    Which only reinforces my initial reaction to google chrome. It’s not a technical solution to anything. It’s attempting to force users into a subscription model.

  53. @Kevin: any good system shod make it simple to remap keys. The caps lock key is part of the standard QWERTY layout – which is important if you touch type. I don’t use the ^ key much, but I’d be annoyed to find out the hard way that my laptop manufacturer decided ^ is obsolete so shift-6 now gets you an em dash.

    Certainly we all have preferences, but I genuinely don’t see how “I hit search by mistake” is a vast improvement over “I hit caps lock by mistake”. Also not following the nobody-uses-it argument. That’s NYT columnist math (in which me and my friends = everybody), and sadly, of things missing on the Internet, use of caps lock is not one of those.

    Re lawyers, let me answer it this way. Why do US writers insist on submitting manuscripts with dialog marked by double quotes, instead of single quotes or angle brackets?

  54. re # 55 – Mythago – “”What is needed is a simple, easy way to shut down or reconfigure keys, not a quirk of changing the standard keyboard layout because, dude, *I* never use that key.””

    See number 40 above. It’s easy in Mac-ville ;-) Sure you pay plenty for the Mac, but you do get quality and ease of use like no other. You don’t have to geek up, you just want to get stuff done.

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