Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A new computer, a TOTALLY new computer...

So last week I got a text from my partner Ranger while I was at work. He said that UPS had just dropped off a package for me. I was a little confused because I wasn't expecting anything and so I called Ranger to find out what was in the box as my curiosity piqued.

Ranger said there was no return address on the box and so I had him open the box for me while I was on the phone. I am in a research program on diabetes and sometimes they will send out small gifts to the study participants and I thought this might explain the package but then I remembered that in the past these packages had always been shipped through the postal service, not UPS. The only other thing I could think of is that I had filled out an online application for a pilot program to test out the new Chrome Operating System from Google on laptops designed by Google to run the new Chrome OS. Of course this was to crazy to be true, there was no way it could be a free laptop from Google, as I was thinking this Ranger got the box open and said "You aren't going to believe this but it is a laptop computer from Google!"

So here's the deal, Google has sent me, and many other people, a 12.1" notebook computer with an Intel Atom processor (the same kind of processor found in many netbook computers), 2 gigs of Ram, a 16 gig SSD drive, wifi card and 3g card, running Chrome OS. If you know computer hardware you know that this is not a spectacularly fast computer but it isn't the hardware that is important here, it's the software.

This is where it gets real interesting, while this machine is all about the software there isn't a lot of software here to talk about. Chrome OS is basically the Chrome web browser with the drivers and other code needed to make the trackpad, keyboard, wireless card, and a few other things run. You start up the computer, a few seconds later you are at a login screen and after logging in a browser window pops up. Thats it, no email software, no word processing software, no spread sheet software, no photo editing software, no nothing, just a web browser.

Funny thing is that's about all you need most of the time. You can use gmail in the browser for your email needs. You can use Google Docs in the browser for spread sheets and presentations and word processing. You can use Picnik in your browser for photo editing. At first it seems very limiting, there is no desktop, no individual applications, nothing but a web browser, but after a few days you realize that it is very liberating, nothing to worry about but a web browser. Plus this means that all of your data, all of your images, all of your music, can be stored in the "cloud" no matter what computer you use you can access all of your stuff. Don't have a computer handy but you have your smart phone? Guess what, with your data in the cloud you still have access to your data.

I really think this new computer, the very computer I am typing out this blog post on, represents a major change in how many, if not most of us, will be using computers in the future. Yep, UPS dropped off a box full of future on my front porch.