Friday, October 26, 2012

The Right Tool for the Job

All of my computers have become vastly overqualified.  I have a $1,500 MacBook Air, but I’m using $250 of it. Enter the new Chromebook.

Around 11 years ago, I decided to make a conscious effort to move all my data to servers accessible over the Internet (the term “Cloud” was not in vogue at the time) so that I would be able to access it from any of my computers.  The process was difficult at first, since Internet connectivity was not as ubiquitous as it is today, and there were nowhere near as many high quality cloud services available as there are now.  However, initially making use of pioneering companies such as NetLedger (now NetSuite) for accounting data and Writely (now part of Google Drive) for web-based word processing, and gradually incorporating other services such as Google Apps, Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Services, Sliderocket, Gliffy, Evernote, Mint and many others, as of roughly 3 years ago my migration to the cloud became complete.  The only application I need to run on any of my computers is the browser, and all of my data, spreadsheets, word processing documents, PDFs, photos, videos, music, movies, TV shows, presentations, diagrams, etc., is available from any Internet-connected computer.

Using my gorgeous 13” MacBook Air for my general computing chores became like using a Lamborghini to go to the corner grocery store: total overkill.  But that’s not exactly the right analogy, since there’s nothing wrong with going to the grocery store in style.  It felt more like I was not sufficiently leveraging the effort I had made to migrate to web-based services.  Thanks to the cloud, I no longer needed an expensive computer that did so much more than what I required.  It just felt wrong to the part of me that takes pride in using the proper tool for the job at hand.

That same part of me has been drawn toward Chrome OS since it was announced in July of 2009.  Yet there was no way I could justify spending $500 on a Chromebook when the computers I already owned were fulfilling my needs, and then some.  However, with the introduction of the $249 Samsung Chromebook, resistance became futile.  I ordered it as soon as it was announced, received it 2 days later and have been delightfully using it ever since (3 days so far).

Before I go any further I must admit that, in addition to the aforementioned MacBook Air and my new Chromebook, I own a Mac mini, a MacBook Pro, and an iMac (not to mention an iPhone 5, an iPad and a Nexus 7 tablet).  And I love them all.  But for the past few days, the device I’ve reached for in almost every computing situation has been the plastic, cheaply built Chromebook that was most obviously not designed by Jony Ive.  Why?  Because it’s the right tool for the job.  It is only able to do precisely what I need it to do: provide a gateway to the web.  No more, no less.  And in doing only that, as a by-product of its efficiency, it eliminates virtually all of the hassles inherent in other operating systems and native apps, like the constant updating, long boot times, exposure to viruses and the need to back up, among others.

Will our grandchildren’s computing devices be progenies of today’s iOS, Android, Windows, OS X or Linux devices, all with their native apps?  Or will they be descendants of the incredible $249 computer I’m writing this on?  I’m so in love with the flat-out efficiency of this machine, which looks like it was purchased at Toys ‘R Us but makes cheap components shine more than they have a right to, that I’m betting on Chrome OS, Web Apps and Chromebooks as the eventual winners.  To me, nothing makes more sense than having my data in both a place and a format that allows me to grab any computer and just point the browser at it to use it.  Apple and Microsoft will [eventually] lose, since they are betting their companies on expensive machines and native apps.  Google and Amazon will [eventually] win, since although they are hedging their bets, they are doubling down on the web.  You heard it here first.