Posted May 13, 2011 by Jeff Lail 

Is the Chromebook an Education Game Changer?

This week at the Google I/O 2011, a conference that “brings together thousands of developers for two days of deep technical content,” Google announced that its cloud computing computer project has reached fruition and is ready to go to market. The first of these Chromebooks available for massive sale will be the Acer and Samsung editions, with slightly different hardware systems, and coming in at price points of $349 and $429, respectively.

However, they will have in common the Google Chrome OS system, a system that operates on the “cloud” and functions without what most users would recognize as an operating system (or a hard drive, really) and instead uses web applications and the internet. The focus is mobile, decentralized connectivity, and all of these computers tout being “always connected” as an asset. The “always” may often mean using the 3G service that is available in the area, however, which is a prospect that is attached to a high cost for the user.

One place that will face less of an issue with needing 3G connectivity is college campuses, a place with nearly ubiquitous wifi, which makes the second piece of Google’s Chromebook strategy more intriguing. Google plans to offer Chromebooks (presumably the Acer and Samsung versions) for rental to schools and universities for a rental fee of $20 per month. No details about the plans (e.g., legalities) were released at Google I/O, but nonetheless, this idea caused a minor stir. Would our students (or perhaps our offices) be interested in renting a Chromebook for $20 a month?

I was lucky enough to be one of the users to beta test a pre-release version of the Chromebook, and I will admit I have been impressed. I am a high user of the cloud, operate nearly my entire day with a browser open, and am initiated to the Google app suite; in a way, I am an ideal user for the Chromebook. That being said, I see the potential of these machines. They do not have the tiny, almost toy-ish, appearance, and they attempt at a workable OS that many netbooks have and are specifically made for a net-addicted generation.

Aside from the Chrome OS not playing nice with Skype (a software I use regularly), I have not run into any issues. The Chromebook has actually become my primary home computer, overtaking my serious Lenovo. I am addicted to the simple user interface, long battery life and highly portable, yet not overly tiny, hardware. The system works, and it works well. It is too early to say what the impact is of this machine, but it seems safe to say that Google has made a strong entry into the laptop market, into the cloud market, and will make many higher ed folks reconsider their next laptop purchase.

Jeff Lail

Jeff Lail is the Coordinator for Programs at University of North Carolina–Greensboro.

Jeff has been in the student activities and student union field for four years now. Being a chemistry major and host of a tech podcast, he's usually the numbers and tech geek in every room in student affairs, but he owns it.

Comments

I would say our students would rent a Chromebook for $20/month versus buying a Dell laptop (as our campus currently offers). Thanks for sharing your review, Jeff. It certainly intrigues me and I can't wait to see how this may impact education in the future.
Comment posted 05/18/2011 2:45 PM
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