Google Chromebooks Go to School

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Two thousand schools are now using Chromebooks in the classroom, according to Google. This indicates that Google has succeeded in promoting what is essentially a network computer after a slew of companies before it got nowhere with the idea.

So what did Google do right?

Past attempts at integrating network computers in schools required thin clients and some sort of back-end server. They also required an IT staff and very expensive back-end gear. This failed fast.

Then came the Internet and people again attempted to create an array of thin clients hooked to the Web. It stood some chance of success, but for some reason the makers of all these sorts of devices priced them too high to compete with the PC. This was baffling because if you are going to strip a PC of its hard disk and memory, not to mention other features and hardware, it has to be dirt cheap.

In most instances, it was the same price as a loaded PC. Sometimes, it was ever more expensive. This sort of strategy was inane but vendors played up the fact that the devices would not get viruses and the teachers had more control over them.

Then along came the Chromebook, which is decidedly cheaper than any PC or laptop but that has all the attributes of those previously promoted thin clients. To make it even more attractive, there is no license fee for Windows as the thing runs the Chrome OS.

Now we have most of what schools need. All that is missing—and it may not be completely missing—is curriculum programming that resides on the Internet. This would include testing systems, study guides, and interactive online textbooks, complete with plenty of audio and visual content.

I’m not sure what the arrangement is between Google and the actual makers of these devices, but it has to be a money-maker all around. It’s weird, though, that it took a search engine company to make this old idea work. And this is despite the written commentary of the past. I myself have moaned about the stupidity of thin-client computing in the schools and elsewhere for one reason only: the thin clients were overpriced!

I have never figured out what research report, seminar, or banker kept overriding this message. Everyone was saying it, but for some reason, the manufacturers could not make the things cheap enough. It made no sense because a PC with more capability was cheaper.

This odd episode in the history of computing will be eventually forgotten as the Chromebook makes inroads in schools as the newest and most successful version of thin-client computing.

Now what it will need is a growing infrastructure of support on the Internet. Right now, for example, most people will be using Google Docs with its word processor for writing. But why be limited to just that? Other online word processors can appear. In fact, on the software side, it would not be a bad idea to go after some of the Google products, like the Calendar. It works, but it could work better. I’d take a shot at that for starters. The sky is the limit for the next generation of Internet apps.

Now I can begin to complain about the presupposed sluggishness of these same apps. I’m ready.

By John C. Dvorak, PCMag


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