ChromeboxThis news may be a couple weeks late, but I’m still excited about it. In October, Google announced a cheaper, lighter version of it’s Chromebook along with a desktop-like Chromebox.

I’ve been intrigued about this idea since Google announced the Chrome OS a few years back. It’s a stripped down operating system that’s something like a cross between a web browser and the Android operating system on Google’s phones. It doesn’t do everything that Windows or Mac OS does, and it’s designed this way to be more efficient, streamlined, and lightweight.

So what’s new with these two gadgets…?

Chromebook – Lighter and Cheaper

The new Chromebook that Google just announced costs $249. This is almost half the cost of it’s predecessor (the Samsung Chromebook 550 costs $449). It incorporates a new processor that’s a little bit slower than the one in the old Chromebook, but it blows other mobile computing devices (tablets, phones) out of the water.

This is part of the quandary of the Chromebook – is it a computer or is it a fancy tablet with a keyboard? It looks like a computer, so people expect it to have a lot of computing power. But it’s a web-enabled device that essentially does everything in the cloud. It doesn’t need a whole lot of computing power, and cutting back on the processor makes it cheaper and more efficient.

I want to get my hands on one to play around with it, but they’re currently sold out. Maybe Christmas time. But, based on some reviews I’ve read, it lives up to its expectations if you use it the way it’s intended. It browses the web and lets you use a host of web apps to get things done. As long as you have an internet connection and as long as your life is integrated into the cloud through Google Drive, this thing looks awesome.

Why? Compare it to some other alternatives.

We piloted a program at school last year where each senior got a 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab. Retail price on those is $249.99, the same as the Chromebook. The new Google Nexus 7 tablets are also $249.99, and it seems that $200 to $250 is a pretty standard price point for medium sized tablets. Like the Chromebook, these are web enabled devices, and you can’t do much without an internet connection. The tablets also have smaller screens, similar local storage issues, no external keyboard, and less processing power. Given the choice, I’ll take a Chromebook anyday.

The other alternative is an 11.6″ netbook. Depending on the specs, you’ll spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 to $400 on one of these (like this Acer Aspire One). The upside of the netbook is that you get a traditional operating system (Windows 7), you can use your applications offline, you have a faster processor and more RAM, and you have local storage space. But, the laptop is going to be heavier (4-5 lbs compared to the Chromebook’s 2 lbs) and slower the boot. This is a trade-off worth considering, and it really depends on how you intend to use the computer.

But that’s a topic for another day.

What’s This Chromebox Now?

The more radical release, however, is the Chromebox. The Chromebox is a small desktop computer, and it retails for $329.99. Like the Chromebook, it runs on the Chrome OS and you’ll need an internet connection to use it. Unlike the Chromebook, it doesn’t have watered down specs. It has an Intel Core i5 processor and 4gb of ram, making it a pretty typical budget desktop PC. You might complain about the small, 16gb solid state drive, but a larger drive would defeat the entire purpose of the Chrome OS.

One review of the Chromebook suggested that it was a bit sluggish due to the lightweight processor. I can’t see that being a problem with the Chromebox. Attach a $99 monitor and a $20 mouse/keyboard combo, and you’ve got a cloud based computer ready to go. It’s a perfect workstation for, oh say, a high school student to do some research or work on a project for class.

The Argument for Chrome OS in Education

I plan on digging into this a bit deeper in the future, but for starters here’s a few reasons why Chrome OS (either as a Chromebook or a Chromebox) would be a good choice for schools.

  1. Deploying Chrome OS is a helluva lot simpler than imaging a bunch of computers, maintaining a network with network storage, and dealing with dozens (or hundreds) of computers that also have local storage. I read a post on Dangerously Irrelevant a couple weeks back about how easy it was to set up and maintain a network of Chromebooks.
  2. Chrome OS syncs and works with a Google account. Every student should have a Google account. ‘Nuff said. It makes it so much easier to keep your stuff sync’ed across multiple computers and devices. No need to worry about who’s computer it is, just log in and your stuff is there.
  3. Most of what you do in school can be done in the cloud. With the exception of the image editing and layout that I do with my students for the yearbook, everything I do as a teacher is cloud based. I use Schoology for course management. We use Focus for student information services. I use Google Drive to create presentations, to share handouts, and to type up my lesson plans. It’s so liberating to be able to sit down at any computer, log in, and access the stuff I need to work. I don’t need to worry about whether or not my room is occupied with another class.
  4. Best of all, Chrome OS (like the Chrome browser) will keep itself up to date without any user interaction. The computers in my school are a mess of old versions of Windows XP, Mac OS, and old web browsers. Neither the operating systems nor the installed software can be upgraded without an administrator’s password. Now there are fancy ways to set up imaging over a network, so that our network admin could in theory push out an update. However, the fact that Chrome OS will seamlessly keep itself updated is a huge bonus in my opinion.

The only legitimate downside, in my mind, is that they rely so much on the Internet. While our school network has become much more reliable over the last few years, there still are mornings when it’s sluggish and my connection is intermittent. If Google fully implements off-line editing for documents from Google Drive, then I’d hop on board the Chrome OS bandwagon without a second thought.