Chromebooks: Cheap or Not, Mostly Useless for Lawyers - Technologist
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Chromebooks: Cheap or Not, Mostly Useless for Lawyers

You may have heard of these newfangled Google laptops. Some are as cheap as $250. The newest Chromebook, the Chromebook Pixel, costs a whopping $1,300 for the base model. But what in the heck are they?

Lets start with what they are not. They aren't Windows or Mac laptops. They aren't Ubuntu Linux laptops. They are laptops that run Google's Chrome OS - a stripped-down and speedy quick operating system that runs from the familiar Chrome browser.

Chrome OS

Though Chrome OS is Linux-based, you could say that about a lot of operating systems. Android, which runs on more than sixty percent of smartphones, is Linux-based. Ubuntu Linux, which is the most popular flavor of the open-source alternative operating system, is based on Linux. Even Mac OS X is based on Unix - a sort of cousin to Linux.

The thing about most consumer-flavored versions of Linux is that they try to ape the traditional operating system environment. There is usually a Windows-like interface, with a bar at the bottom, a Start-like button, and a clock in the bottom right. Each app runs in its own window, much like Windows and Mac OS X.

Chrome OS is similar - buttons on the bottom, clock in the corner - but runs programs in the web browser. It's Google's move to change the desktop OS into a cloud OS. All of your data, programs, etc., are stored online so that you can pick up where you left off on another computer, tablet, or phone.

Chrome OS Desktop
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons - click to enlarge

Chrome Laptops

The first few were dirt cheap, at a few hundred dollars or less. Then, earlier this month, Google released the Chromebook Pixel - a competitor to high-end Windows ultrabooks and Macbooks. It has a massive touch-screen (with an odd 3:2 screen ratio - great for browsing the web, bad for watching movies), is super thin-and-light, and has top-of-the line internal components and processors.

We still don't get it, however. This is like putting a V8 engine into a horse-drawn carriage. You can browse the web really fast. You can use Google Docs. You can use Gmail. Guess what? You can also do those really fast on any new computer. Gmail is not Photoshop or some other resource-consuming hog.

You know what you can't do? Run legacy office apps that are essential for a law practice, such as Microsoft Word (available for PCs and Macs, unsurprisingly), QuickBooks, and any other non-cloud software. We're big on cloud-based products (see our many recent product reviews and posts on the matter) but the reality is, we're still tethered to certain offline applications. No matter how fabulous Google Docs or Word's online version may be -- they don't work as well as the offline counterparts.

Chromebooks are great for giving your child a way to access their email and the web. Heck, at $200, it's probably worth it to spare your computer from the abuse. What they are not, however, are replacements for working professionals' computers.

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