In part 4 of the Chromebooks series, I discuss their capabilities with regard to modern touch-based user interfaces and the support for cloud applications.

There is no doubt about it. The lack of control over automatic updates and no support of data backups are severe disadvantages of Chromebooks for businesses. However, more important for the success of Chromebooks will be their usability and their abilities regarding cloud computing.

6. User interface ^

Just like Microsoft, Google was obviously caught napping by the success of the iPad. Chrome OS was already in the making, and there was no way to adapt the OS in a reasonable time for tablets. The only difference is that Microsoft is working feverishly to improve Windows's touch capabilities, whereas Google has no plans for tablet support.

The fact that Google was reluctant at first to offer Android for tablets indicates that the company is quite aware of the fact that the rise of these "other new kind of computers" jeopardizes the success of the Chromebooks. Why should you buy a Chromebook if you can get a cool Android tablet for the same price, with all the features of a Chromebook plus myriad Android apps and a nice touch interface? Steve Ballmer is constantly mocking Google that their strategy with two operating systems is flawed, and he is right.

It would have made much more sense to just dump Chrome OS and offer an enhanced version of Android for netbooks and notebooks. By nature, it will be difficult to adapt Chrome OS for tablets simply because web apps are not made for touch. Thus Chrome OS faces exactly the same problem as Windows: Google's new kind of computer has a hopelessly outdated user interface. Even if a new version offers support for touch, it will take too long until the whole ecosystem adopts the changes. Since Microsoft has much more control over Windows than Google has over the Open Web, it will be easier for Redmond to convince partners to introduce touch capabilities in their applications.

7. Cloud support ^

The funny thing is that Google announced "a new kind of computer" a few days ago, whereas Apple has already demonstrated for more than a year how the new kind of computer really looks like. The truth is that web apps stand for an outdated technology that will be replaced by what I would call cloud apps—that is, locally running applications with a rich and modern user interfaces with back ends in the cloud for data storage, collaboration, and other typical server functions.

Many people talking about the cloud mistakenly equate the cloud with web applications and web services. However, cloud technology is not dependent on the web. You can have web apps without cloud technology, and you can use cloud technology without using web technology.

There is really nothing about the web that makes it the preferable platform for the cloud. Modern operating systems such as iOS or Android demonstrate this very well. In most cases, it makes much more sense for a cloud provider to create a special locally running app as a front end for their cloud service than to use an old-fashioned web interface that only works on machines with certain screen sizes. If the underlying operating system provides cloud APIs, you can create much more powerful cloud apps than with an ugly and sluggish web interface.

The best way to understand the difference between web and cloud apps is to compare Google Apps with Office 365. The difference regarding the capabilities between these two cloud-based applications couldn't be bigger. Just like any other cloud app, Office 365 can be accessed anytime, anywhere. You have powerful collaboration features that are only possible with a rich Windows-based user interface of Office 2010.

There is no doubt that the future belongs to cloud apps. The only question is who will be faster to adopt this new kind of computer technology, and a crucial issue in this race is touch. Google is losing valuable time by focusing on outdated web technology with an old-fashioned user interface instead of positioning Android against the upcoming Windows 8, which will not only offer better support for touch but will also be a better cloud OS than Chrome OS.

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In my next and last post of this series, I will compare the costs of Chromebooks for businesses with those of Windows netbooks.

3 Comments
  1. Dan 12 years ago

    I’m confused!

    You say “The best way to understand the difference between web and cloud apps is to compare Google Apps with Office 365.” But Microsoft themselves classify Office 365 as “web” apps (http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/office365/) and it would seem that the majority of options that can be preformed in the “rich windows-based interface of office 2010” can be preformed in Google docs (including the real-time collaboration)

    You then say that office 365 can be accessed “anytime, anywhere” after you railed on Google for making the exact same claims about the chromebooks online mentality in part two. So nowhere do you actually point out legitimate “big” differences between the two applications. I understand the integration with sharepoint is not supported by docs, but access on mobile devices is.

    Understand that by no means am I a Google fanboy, and I personally think that chromebooks are a poor idea, but I don’t understand your logic here.

  2. Michael Pietroforte 12 years ago

    Dan, I am sorry that I confused you.

    In the second part of my Chromebooks series, I argued that that Windows netbooks guarantee a higher accessibility because you have access to your data and applications without internet connection. This also applies to Office 365 because you can use it together with Office 2010. However, if you have internet access you can use the collaboration features in the same way as with Google Apps. Thus because of the better offline support, Office 365 is the clear winner when it comes to accessibility.

    However, the big difference between Office 365 and Google Apps stems from feature rich Office 2010 frond end. Compared to Office 2010 + Office 365, Google Apps is only little toy. The list of features that Google Apps lacks would fill several books. If you don’t believe me, go to your next computer book shop and thumb through a Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Access or OneNote tutorial.

    I hope your confusion has disappeared. 😉

  3. Stefan 12 years ago

    Office 365 can be accessed anytime unless
    – your computer does not run windows or mac
    – you have not bought Office 2007/2010 (bad boy!)
    – you want to use it on a smart-phone (sorry no Office available)
    – unless you want to use chrome or opera as a browser.

    This is the microsoft definition of an cloud-app. Actually you pay twice: Office and Office 365 instead of none at all (Google Apps).

    And because web technology (like HTML5) is so “outdated”, microsoft will use it heavily for windows 8.
    Plus they try to compete chrome OS with their “ServiceOS” project. Sounds like Google is really wrong.

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