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First there was the terminal -- it was a way to talk to the big computer. Then there was the PC, it was a way to use a computer without being hooked up to anything. Then there was the Internet, which made the laptop a device that was both online and offline computing.
Now there are cloud computers.
I know, everyone jokes about not knowing what the cloud is, but just assume that anything that isn't stored on your local computer is stored somewhere in a big data center, or, preferably, copies are scattered across multiple machines in multiple data centers.
You use the cloud every day -- posting cat photos to Facebook or listening to music on Pandora or checking your Gmail or Yahoo! mail. As it happens, more and more of what you do isn't happening on your local computer but on different servers and different services around the globe.
So when I needed a new laptop I had a choice: a "real" laptop with local data storage, processing and the ability to run local programs, or cloud device. Not that I really thought of it that way at first. As with most things, cloud devices aren't really new, we're just starting to realize that they're okay.
Your phone was probably your first cloud device. Even before the iPhone, you could install little apps on your Nokkia or your Palm OS phone and use stuff that ran someplace else. Then there were tablets which were like big phones. But the apps kept getting better and more sophisticated to the point I see business people travelling with just an iPad.
But I need a bit more than just an iPad. For starters, I need a keyboard. Yes, you can get keyboards for your tablet, but by the time you add the cost and the weight you might as well get a Macbook Air for $1,000.
Then I saw the Chromebook for $200. Full keyboard, standard HDMI port so I can hook it up to my second display, a couple of USB ports and really good battery life. It pretty much just runs the Chrome browser and nothing else, but with all the web services like Google Docs, and the fact that most of what I do is online, that's not much of a limitation.
For the stuff that I couldn't do, I was able to add a form of Remote Desktop so I can log into my big old laptop run stuff there. I also installed apps for listening to music streams that aren't web based, added a better linux shell program so I can log into my servers and get really geeky and basically get it to do everything I need.
So when my friend Brenda asked if she should get one, I said "Hell no."
The reason I don't recommend it is because I know what I need to figure out and I'm good at figuring it out. It's like buying stripped down car that you need to soup up to take rally racing. A mechanic will know that he needs to add bracing to make it stiffer, that he can tweak the fuel injectors, how to take the seats out of the back to add a rollbar... I know there IS such a thing as a Remote Desktop for my laptop, I know what an SSH client is, and I know that if I can't find an AAC+ player I can probably at least listen to a streaming MP3.
I also have the big old laptop to fall back on if I need to do something like Skype, which I haven't figured out how to do on the Chromebook.
So... is it a perfect solution? No. But is it the next logical step in the evolution from Terminal->Desktop->Wired Desktop->Wireless Laptop? Absolutely. And as a guy who is the equivalent of a rally racer on the unpaved roads of technology, I gotta ride this one while it's new.