Google’s Chrome Notebook Pros and Cons

Google Chrome Logo -By Ben R.-

With a generous donation from Google, Astoria High School is receiving 700 Google Chrome Notebooks. These sleek, flat black computers are going to be used by the AHS students and Staff. So what can they do?
Google Chrome Notebooks have a screen, keyboard, trackpad, webcam, and The Web. The notebook is built specifically for the Internet, which means it does many things but has left some out.
The first thing to know about the Chrome notebooks is they don’t use a typical operating system most people are used to. It is not Windows, or OS X, but Chrome OS. When the notebook boots up in under ten seconds, a login screen awaits. After that the interface is very similar to the typical Google Chrome browser run on other PCs. The simplicity of the interface and operating system make the notebook quick and user friendly. In addition to the extremely quick boot time, the notebooks wake from standby as soon as they are opened.
All work and documents created are stored in the “Cloud.” The Cloud is essentially groups of distributed servers where files are stored rather than on the Chrome Notebooks. This means that files are accessible everywhere, from any computer with an internet connection.
Programs, or Apps, that install on a Mac or PC will not run on the new notebooks. Since the notebooks are designed to “live on the web,” Google has implemented web based programs. Typical programs won’t work because of the Chrome Operating System. Instead, Google has created “Apps” that run with an online connection only.
These “Apps” for the notebook are on a Web based store to download. From social networking apps that are essentially click-able links to the sites, to classic arcade games, the Chrome Web Store has it all. After an app is loaded, to open it the user simply clicks the “+” icon for a new tab and the app is displayed on that new page. Clicking the app takes the browser to the web page where the online program is run. The Chrome Web Store has millions of apps to choose from, including the Astor Post online app.
The notebooks are very easy to customize with themes from the Web Store. The themes change the background color of the browser, along with the tabs, and other visual aspects. With thousands of themes to choose from there is never a shortage of how the user wants the computer to look. Now on the Chrome Web Store is the Astoria High School theme. However, these themes do not allow the user to customize where visual elements are. Users are stuck with internet tabs at the top of the browser and a status bar for WiFi connection, battery status, and time in the upper right hand corner. In the end, the themes just change the color of items and the user has no control over where items ‘live’ on the desktop.
The Chrome Notebooks have only one moving part: the processor fan. They don’t have a hard drive, or a DVD drive. The Web Cam is used as a metering device to measure light. If the notebook is brought into a dark space the camera will sense the change and automatically dim the screen. These have been excluded due to power consumption and durability. Without them the notebook’s battery will last up to eight hours of use and a week of standby mode.
The notebooks have a built in webcam. The webcam can be used for face-to-face chats and direct Youtube uploading. For those concerned about privacy, Google cannot spy through the webcam.
The notebooks have a single USB port which fully supports mice and keyboards. Flash drives and external storage only work for uploading items to “the cloud” but saving back to them is not an option. The same thing goes for the built in SD card slot on the right side of the computer.
The grey VGA connector on the left side of the notebook allows a video-out feed to be send to an external monitor, HDTV, or projector with a few keystrokes. Once a VGA cable is connected to the computer and an external display, pressing the  CTRL + [Fullscreen Button (the key to the immediate right of the refresh function key) ] simultaneously projects the screen on the external monitor and turns off the internal display. To return to using the internal screen the VGA connector must first be removed and then another press of CTRL + [Fullscreen Button] returns the screen to normal.
Extensions are used by the Chrome browser to add functionality to the computers, such as displaying a notification when an email is received. or displaying recent news. Youtube and other video streaming sites work if the videos use Flash Player. Videos that require a program to be installed aren’t available at this time. Therefore, Netflix streaming is not available because a PC/ Mac program has to be installed to stream content.
Java applets also don’t work. Many live webcams such as the Columbia River Maritime Museum webcam only show a “plug-in missing” page. Java is also used in games and in the teacher’s case, the grading program. This is because a program has to be installed which is not available for Chrome OS.
Random problems plague the notebooks. Wifi connection occasionally decide not to work at all, and also pages decide not to load for no apparent reason. The only way to solve any problem is to completely shut down the notebook. Closing the lid only puts the computer in standby. To shutdown the computer, hold the power button for about two seconds until a login screen appears. Then hold the button until the login page disappears and the power indicator light on the power button goes off. Then press the power button to turn the notebook back on again. This usually resolves most glitchy issues.
The Chrome Notebooks are not a replacement for a traditional desktop computer, but for students at Astoria High School to use for school work and web browsing, there is nothing better suited.