While we were all fighting over which laptop is better, an Apple based or a Microsoft based, Google has released their own operating system. Many computer manufacturers are now building laptops based on it as well as the traditional Windows laptop. The Chrome Book is the new kid on the block. But like a stubborn teenager, it does what it wants to do and nothing more. It has some growing up to do, but it may turn out to be the future of portable computing.
Explain the OS
The Operating System for the Chrome Book is based on Google's Chrome web browser. Google also makes the Android OS used in most smart phones other than the Iphone. If you are familiar with the Chrome web browser and are using an Android based smart phone, the learning curve for the Chrome Book should be small. Because it is little more than a web browser, the Chrome Book starts up much quicker than a Windows or Apple based laptop. Since you will not be installing most applications on the OS (they usually run in the cloud) viruses are currently not as much of an issue. (I'm sure if the Chrome Book gains in popularity, the virus makers will also start attacking it as well.) While Apple and Microsoft are adding more and more features to their OS, Google has cut everything down to the bare minimum.
Explain the Hardware
The Chrome Books look much like a small laptop. The keyboard layout is slightly different. The display is typically not as high definition as most modern laptops. The hard drives are typically solid state drives instead of traditional spinning platter drives. The drives are typically limited to 12Gb to 16Gb verses 500Gb to 800Gb for low end Windows laptops. (The idea is that most applications and your data will be stored in the cloud, not locally on your Chrome Book.) Because they have lower-powered processors and no fans, the battery life can be much longer for a Chrome Book.
They will typically have USB ports, but don't expect every USB device to just plug in and work. Printers are a notable issue with Chrome Books. To print, you must print through a cloud based print utility to a network connected printer. You can't just plug in your Officejet into the USB port and expect it to print.
Explain the Apps
When thinking of applications, remember that this is not a Windows OS. Google has a special store called the Chrome Web Store where you can install many free apps for the new OS. (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/apps) Google is also making a developer's kit that allows Android developers to easily port their apps over to the new Chrome OS. If this takes off, then we could see an explosion of available apps for the Chrome Book. But for now, your applications may be limited. If you can do what you want to do inside of a browser, you should be good to go. If not, check for a free or inexpensive app from the Google Web Store.
Explain the Concept
The concept behind the Chrome Book is to produce an inexpensive and low powered device that will access the Internet. As we see the popularity of cloud based storage and cloud based applications increase, the popularity of the Chrome Book should also increase. We are already seeing strides in that direction. Intuit QuickBooks has a version that can be run completely from the Internet through a web browser. Google Docs has a word processor, spreadsheet and other productivity apps available completely within a browser. Dropbox and Microsoft One Drive are examples of cloud based storage.
These devices could also be used in manufacturing where the company's IT department has developed a complete web based interface to the SAS database. Or in hospital settings where a local web based application provides the interface doctors need to patient information.
For any application, access to the Internet or to the servers containing a proprietary application is necessary. These systems are not designed to run on their own.
Even though the concept is for a low-priced device, there is some overlap between Chrome Books and traditional laptops. The higher end Chrome Book will cost more than a lower end traditional laptop.
Will these devices fit your needs. I suspect the answer will be increasingly yes in the next few years.