Chromebooks, Chromebox, Chrome OS, “Chromium” and the cloud simplified!

We are sure you must have heard of the word “Chromebook” before.

A Chromebook is not a brand of laptops. So saying you have a laptop called “Chromebook” is not actually correct. It is a special type of personal computer concept (of a somewhat notebook form factor) which runs a Linux ported Operating System called Chrome OS by Google. So, does it run Windows… or maybe Macintosh? Nope! Its a whole new Operating System of its own; and it’s “linux-like.”

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Now here comes the most important thing you need to know about Chromebooks running the Chrome OS: The Chrome OS, is specifically designed to support applications that reside on the web and this means that it is designed to be used WHILE CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET! So, if you are the kind of computer user who loves to do things offline, you might want to really consider this. Almost everything operates within the web browser which looks and feels like using Google Chrome on your Windows or Mac. You might as well say it is a cheaper, savvier option for those PC users that are most interested in web activity such as email, social media, online video streaming and cloud based document editing via Google Drive.

As at now, only a handful of IT companies have taken on making Chromebooks: Google was of course the first in 2010 and then others: Samsung, Acer, HP and Lennovo joined in. Hence the specifications of each Chromebook varies in hardware, build and features. Chromebooks, are netbooks (smaller laptops designed for web use) with 11.6″ to 14″ screen size and they are thin, lightweight and easy to carry around. “Chromebox” is the desktop computer equivalent of “Chromebook.”

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The Good…

The first good thing to consider about Chromebooks is that they are rather inexpensive to buy. They are also extremely mobile – beautiful looking ultra-thin computers and a much less cumbersome tool to carry around. Chrome OS is running a Linux kernel; so you would not have to worry about viruses and certain levels of security threats. They come with Solid State Drives (SSD) which make boot times super fast and application management flawless and intuitive. All Chromebooks boast of about 4 hours of battery life; which is a plus (but could be better). Don’t worry about connectivity: most Chromebooks also come with SD memory card slots for your devices, and a DisplayPort ++ which is compatible with HDMI, DVI and VGA cables. For internet, they also have WiFi a/b/g/n connectivity, Ethernet and most come with 3G. All these features make the Chromebooks your cheapest option for relative day-to-day activities such as email and web, as well as for office and business use.

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The “Not so” Good…

However, it is worthy to note a couple of things you might also want to consider about Chromebooks. First off is that though they come with fast Solid State hard drive technology, they usually come in with about 16GB worth of space! The Chromebooks are expected to be used over the cloud so it is expected you would be doing much more of your saving online than anywhere else. Only the Acer C7 as at now, has a 320GB hard drive; but guess what? it is NOT Solid state. Next to also note is that they host pretty much only Google apps on it and the Chrome browser, is pretty much everything there is to it. Gmail doesn’t open a dedicated Gmail app, but rather in a new tab in the browser. It’s the same with any Chrome app, including games, with the exception of the downloads and Google Drive file browsers, which have their own windows.

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ChromeOS is optimized for users who already use Google’s numerous applications. The three quick launch apps on the launchbar are the Chrome Web browser, Gmail and Google+. Within the apps drawer, the Google love continues, with YouTube, Google Calendar, Maps, Drive and more all present. Every installed application ends up in this app drawer, but the default apps are all from Google. Unlike Windows or OS X, these app icons function more like bookmarks rather than independent applications. Instead of opening new windows, each icon opens a new tab in the Chrome browser to the desired Web app. ChromeOS has an app marketplace, where users can download and install a maybe large selection of apps; but nothing really new is there that we have not seen. So, the conclusion on this is rather clear: they are rather useless offline. Did you also know that Chrome OS has NO printer drivers. Yes! None!

There is not much to say about the hardware configurations of Chromebooks. Most of them are Intel Celeron CPUs and at most, the Samsung Exynos 5 Dual. With the exception of a few, most of them run on 2GB DDR3 RAM so, we are hoping you were not even dreaming of running the likes of Call Of Duty or major PC game releases on it.

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By now, you probably can picture yourself and a Chromebook by now. It’s pretty much all about the web. One could say that it is a very strong direction suggesting a possible future of computing but whether you are suited for that future depends on your needs. “Though Chrome OS has been dinged in the past for not being a “full-time OS,” Google’s “pace of improvement”…is ambitious,” says CNET reviews and you may not believe it, but currently, the demand for Chromebooks could match up with Windows 8.

Chrome and Chromium?

To set the record straight about a well known confusion, Chromium is an open source development version of Chrome and just like there is a Chrome browser and a Chrome OS, there’s the Chromium browser and Chromium OS! So here is an easy way out of this for you: “Chromium” is the cutting edge, giant testing environment designed for developers with code that is available for anyone to checkout, modify, and build. So Chromium would of course have a few more professional, developer or administrative options to it than Chrome. We would love to go into the specifics about the two but the bottom line is that apart from the consequences of developer options in Chromium, the user experience in both is practically the same! This is why Chrome OS is what you would find installed on your Chromebook – not Chromium (and that includes both the browser and the OS).

A “dysfunctional” prank: Microsoft Office for iOS

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This is really no joke. There is now a full blown Microsoft Office App for the iOS. The rumors have finally ended –  it exists. Now where do we go from here? Yes! As you probably guessed –  back to the apps you were using earlier to run your document creation / editing needs.

It looked promising to us at first (to be honest). No one could help but wonder how Microsoft was planning to place the Office on the iPad. After all, the app would have to impress a lot more than the forefront document editing apps such as Google Drive, Documents-To-Go and Quickoffice as well as a host of others. With the numerous sync properties these apps have over cloud services, and various desktop experience offline features, we were hoping to have the Redmond software giants deliver something, maybe not above and beyond what we have seen, but something different anyway.

Well at least we did get something different. The problem of course, is what we got.

First and most important to mention is the fact that to use it, you need a paid Office 365 subscription. This is the “ah-hah!” light bulb moment: there had to be a catch about why Microsoft would go ahead to make Office available on “enemy territory.” Then again, that also tells you how serious Microsoft is about making bucks out of every single opportunity available. Now, before you Office 365 subscribers get on to get the app, you might also want to know that it is currently restricted to the United States (although there are ways around that), and annoyingly, there is not yet a version for the iPad.  In plain English, the app is designed for paid Office 360 users in The United States who have an iPhone. So don’t let the free Microsoft Office app on Apple Store fool you if you do not meet up to these requirements.

There are a number of things one would wonder about concerning this and we would leave you with one. The only thing Microsoft could possibly boast of, in our opinion, is that “Documents look like the originals, thanks to support for charts, animations, SmartArt graphics and shapes. When you make quick edits or add comments to a document, the formatting and content remain intact.” But free cloud based office apps like Google Drive already allow you to access and create documents, presentations and spreadsheets in Microsoft Office format. Even paid for offline apps such as Documents-To-Go and Quickoffice even have several cloud based service sync abilities with the likes of Evernote, Dropbox, SugarSync and others.

So um… why do we need this exactly?