Considering Buying A Chromebook as Thin Client ?

What a lot of people don’t know about a Chromebook is it appears to be the first mainstream device heavily marketed to consumers as a “thin client” laptop to the “Cloud”.  Face it.  Most people are used to using their PC’s as a “fat client”, that is, a computer storing programs run directly by the user from the computer itself.  In fact, your tablets and smartphones are still considered a “fat client” because you have to download apps on your devices to use them directly.

Chromebook as Thin Client

However, the one thing that all these devices have in common, whether they be PC’s, tablets, smartphones or even Chromebooks, is that they all can run as a “thin client” like Chromebook  off the Internet via your Internet browser.  It’s Google’s Chromebook that just takes this computing philosophy one step further than everyone else.

What is a “Cloud”?  Well, in computing terms, it’s nothing more than a server that is not on your device which runs programs that can be connected directly to your device via the Internet.  There’s more detailed explanations of the technicalities of “Cloud computing” which I will leave to Wikipedia.  But that’s basically, what you need to know as an end user of the “Cloud”.  What do people use the “Cloud” for these days?  Most people use it to store their personal files and to run programs like games or to consume content such as viewing Youtube videos.

I’m an Industrial Engineer by trade and one of the things I’ve had to do for work is do time studies.  Time studies capture the time spent at various activities of a worker’s shift.  Well, if I had to apply time studies to how consumers use computers, this is what I would find:

 

Activity Smartphone PC Tablet
Entertainment 24% 24% 50%
Communication 47% 36% 26%
Production 18% 30% 15%
Research 9% 11% 9%
98% 101% 100%

 

I took research conducted by Gartner and GfK’s “Multimedia Mentor” study and compiled the results above.  Notice which device is dominant for a particular category.  For Entertainment, it’s the Tablet (50%) which is dominant compared to a PC or Smartphone.  For Communication, it’s not surprisingly the Smartphone (47%) which is dominant compared to a PC or Tablet.

For Production, it makes sense that the PC (30%) would beat out the Smartphone or Tablet for usage with the advantage of a larger screen size and processing power.  As for Research, you will notice the percentage is almost the same across each type of device.

How does this relate to a Chromebook?  Well, it depends on what you primarily use a computer for.  If you are mostly using the computer for Entertainment, Communication (Social Networking), Research and light Production work, the Chromebook seems like a good fit for your needs.

Here are the Hardware Manufacturers who either sell or will be selling Chromebooks:

Mfgr Retailers Model Price Weight (lbs) Screen Size (in) Res Battery Proc(GHz) RAM (GB) Stor(GB)
Acer site lists online and offline retailers C720-2103 249.99 2.76 11 1366 x 768 8.5 1.4 2 16
Asus To be released Q1 2014 249.99
Dell To be released Jan 2014 Chromebook 11 2.9 11.6 1366 x 768 10 1.4 2-4 16 or more
HP site lists online and offline retailers 11-1101 279 2.26 11.6 1366 x 768 6 1.7 2-4 16
Lenovo site lists online and offline retailers ThinkPad X131e 429 3.9 11.6 1366 x 768 7.5 16
Samsung site lists online and offline retailers XE303C12-H01US 329.99 2.43 11.6 1366 x 768 6.3 1.7 2 16
Toshiba To be released Feb 2014 280 3.3 13 1366 x 768 9 2 16
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The whole idea of using a Chromebook is to run most of your daily computing tasks off the Chrome broswer, which enables you access to Google’s ecosystem of apps using their web store.  It looks very similar to Google Play from a Smartphone or Tablet.

Once you’ve chosen apps to install, they display on your Chrome browser like this.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on Chromebooks lately and have found for the average user, it can viably serve as a PC replacement.  Why?  Because, if most of your tasks are conducted using the Internet anyway, why do you need a beefier PC?  I would say if you are heavily into Gaming, Video Editing, Graphic Design or Computer Programming, then a low end PC like the Chromebook is not suitable for the type of tasks you do.  It’s not that it’s impossible to do them.  It’s just that the screen size and processing may present some problems if you want to get your work done quickly.  For those kinds of tasks my Linux Mint or Ubuntu PC does just fine.

One of the concerns people have with this new mode of computing is that if they have no reliable Internet access, what are they do?  Well, Google, provides users with the ability to work offline with Gmail, Calendar and other apps.  Heck, I can even read my Kindle Content without Internet access.  As long as I downloaded my content for offline use, I can easily access it on Chrome.  The same principle holds true with Google apps.  For example, there’s an app called “Gmail Offline” that you can install from the Chrome Web Store to download your Gmail when you are offline.  It allows you to sync your Gmail once you have Internet access again.

You also have the ability to access apps from other Cloud providers.  I created a tutorial using LibreOffice Calc from the website www.rollapp.com.

Finally, for more advanced users, yes, the 16GB storage is a limitation but you do have the ability to use Crouton to install a light Linux distribution (i.e. Ubuntu derivative) on the Chromebook.  Crouton allows you toggle back and forth between the Chrome OS and your installed Linux distro.  The advantage of doing this is using the Linux distro for the heavier processing say using Open Shot Editor for Video Editing or LibreOffice for offline document processing.

So, if you are considering buying a Chromebook, consider what you are using your computing devices primarily for and it will enable you to determine whether it is a suitable PC replacement or an additional portable device supplement to your collection of computing devices for personal use.

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