Why Your Kid’s Next Laptop — But Not Yours — Should Be a Chromebook
Shopping for a laptop for your budding young genius? It may be time to ditch Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s OS X and start living la vida Google with a Chromebook.
If you’ve never heard of Chromebooks, don’t feel bad. These small and (mostly) inexpensive machines haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire since they were introduced in June 2011. Lately, though, Chromebooks seem to be taking off. Acer, HP and Toshiba have all released new models over the last few months, and tech research firm Gartner predicts that Chromebook sales will more than double in 2014.
What’s a Chromebook?
Chromebooks look like ordinary laptops, but they hold a huge difference inside: They run the Chrome operating system, which is built around the same code used by Google’s Chrome browser. And instead of storing software and data on the machine’s hard drive, Chromebooks are set up to put it online, in the cloud. And there’s more: On a Chromebook, you don’t spend a fortune on productivity software like Microsoft Office; rather, you configure your Chromebook to use lightweight apps that run on web pages. Many of the apps are free. And you won’t have to futz around with system settings while trying to decipher inscrutable error messages, so you’ll be able to get actual work done (or play games, watch movies and read Yahoo Tech, of course).
This doesn’t mean Chromebooks are the best choice for everyone. There are good reasons why Windows PCs and Macs will continue to rule in personal computing for years to come. But Chromebooks are a mighty attractive option for your kids, for three excellent reasons:
They’re cheap. WiFi Chromebooks typically cost between $200 and $300, so when your kids knock their laptop off the arm of the couch and break the screen (which has happened in my house more times than I care to recall), it won’t be quite so painful. And since most of the apps are free, you won’t be stuck forking over hundreds of dollars for additional software.
They’re fast. Press the power button, log into your Google account (if you don’t have one already, you’ll need to create one), and you’re in. Close the lid when you’re done, reopen it later, and you’re back exactly where you started. Your only real limit is the speed of your Internet connection.
They’re easy. If you know how to use a browser — and especially if you’re familiar with Google Chrome — then you know how to use a Chromebook. They’re less prone to the maddening technical glitches that drive owners of PCs (and, yes, Macs too) absolutely bonkers. They’re also more secure: Because Chrome OS has yet to become popular with malware authors, you’re unlikely to catch some nasty Net-borne virus. And if by chance you do, Google has built in some nifty safeguards to limit the damage and revert your system to its pristine state.
These things make Chromebooks an especially good fit for classrooms. Teachers don’t have to waste 10 minutes of class time waiting for everyone’s Windows machines to boot up or spend time troubleshooting someone’s iWork installation. If the machine isn’t working, kids can just grab another Chromebook off the hardware cart, log into their accounts, and get to work.
Working without a net
So what happens if you’re stuck on a WiFi-less plane or trapped in some godforsaken wasteland where the nearest Starbucks hotspot is 50 miles away?