Whoever wins the hearts and minds of today's younger computer users will have a substantial advantage over the competition for years to come. In years past, I've seen both Apple and, later, Microsoft try this approach. Both failed, as kids back in the early days of computing used their PCs for school and limited PC gaming. Today things are different. Kids are glued to their smartphones and many of those smart phones are Android-based.
This means kids are fairly comfortable using Android applications. Now imagine putting Android applications on Chromebooks for schools. Yes, this is in fact happening right now. I for one, think this is going to prove to be one of the smartest moves Google has made in many years.
In this article, I'll explain why this may be the final nail in the coffin with regard to Microsoft Windows for casual computer users.
Tasks, not operating systems
Despite what PC power users may have you believe, most people don't use operating systems – they accomplish tasks with their computers. It's been my experience that the divide between Windows and OS X has come down to what's familiar.
Yes, there are specific examples where a gamer needs a Windows PC, while the photographer feels more at home on the Mac. But for most casual users, it comes down to a web browser. It used to be the email client and a Web browser, but the adoption of Web mail has begun to snuff out the use of an email client.
Despite this, I hear from folks all the time who are buying new Windows computers because they have no idea what's possible with a Chromebook. These same folks, believe that they "need" a full fledged computer with all the bells and whistles to shop on Amazon, bid on Ebay or to check their email. I personally find this to be a bit terrifying.
Now here's what schools and young people know – Chromebooks are a better buy for the casual browser user. Netflix, Hulu, email, social networks, YouTube, Chromebooks can do all of this. Going even further, schools have access to administration tools that allow them to manage Chromebooks for their students. Chromebooks are light years more secure to use than Windows laptops and more people are switching all of the time.
But let's get back to tasks for a moment. What if those Windows users were shown how to use Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, plus many more familiar titles? Now let's add the news that Android software will be able to (officially) run on ChromeOS as well. Bundle this with the fact that Chromebooks can also run many apps in offline mode, it's easy to see why more people are buying Chromebooks than ever before.
So the Chromebook can not only handle super-casual computing tasks like email and browsing the web, it will soon have the ability to run installable applications outside of the Chrome browser. For 97% of the home user population, this is beyond anything they'd ever need.
The only ace in the hole Microsoft should have over the Chromebook (from a task perspective) would be printing. Sadly, however, even in this space, Microsoft fails. Older printer support in Windows is pretty bad. Folks, there are legions of people that simply don't buy new printers like we do. They're still using old Cannon flatbed scanners and loud, clunky HP inkjets.
Unfortunately, Google's Chromebooks are as bad or worse in terms of legacy printer support. If a casual user owns what's called a "Classic Printer" which lacks support for "cloud ready" printing, they're in for a fairly significant hassle. Note steps one and two:
- Turn your printer on.
- On your Windows or Mac computer, open Google Chrome.
The comedy is that if Google bothered to fix this issue, perhaps by – gasp – borrowing the printing capabilities given to us by CUPS, more people would be able to use legacy printers. The fact of the matter is, CUPS classic printer support is the best there is in terms of wide older and newer printer compatibility.
Here's why ChromeOS makes sense
The number one reason why Chromebooks and ChromeOS as a whole makes sense is that it solves the "end user problem." Outside of the issues with printing, Chromebooks have removed some of the biggest pain points casual users find when using computers.
Let me paint you a picture. Malware on a Chromebook? Nope, nothing to speak of in that department. How about missed updates? Again, not a problem as these things take place automatically. Are Chromebooks expensive to have repaired? If you drop it, you're more likely to buy a new one. But outside of liquid or dropping it, there isn't really a need for tech support. Well, wifi connectivity not withstanding.
Windows and OS X, simply have too many options for some people. Obviously, users such as myself and others enjoy having control over their operating system. But I maintain the belief that the majority of people should be using either ChromeOS or Linux. The only downside to popular Linux distributions is that it needs to have a support component. After all, desktop Linux distributions are fully controllable operating systems. Which is great for folks who need this level of control, but bad when a bug, regression or update throws a newbie for a loop.
Chromebooks run Linux
As much as it pains me to admit it, Chromebooks are the "Linux-Lite" experience I believe many of us have been waiting for. It's not an operating system I want to use, but it's something I can hand to most people to use as it "supports" itself.
Bundle this with Android apps coming to ChromeOS, and we suddenly have a very compelling platform for casual users. And with the inclusion of Android applications, I think we're going to see the lines between Android and ChromeOS blur quite a bit. I'll be first to admit that the idea of running Android applications in an official capacity on a Chromebook would be a lot of fun to try out.
What say you? Are you a believer in Google's approach to the consumer computing market? Maybe you think they've hit their peak? Hit the Comments and let me know what your think about Google's Android/ChromeOS plans and how it will affect casual computing in the future.