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Google to Announce Chrome Laptops for Students - $20/Month (forbes.com)
99 points by Kylekramer on May 11, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments

I finished grad school in 2009 and have been using a Cr-48 since January. I am now thinking about how I will advise my kids. My oldest is 9, so a its a ways off, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if she is expected to have a computing device by high school. I would not recommend the Cr48 experience to a student. The lack of utility offline is very non-trivial.

During a month in Japan, the Cr-48 was literally nothing more than a flat surface to set my MacBook on. I left my iPad home with the family, and I really wished I had brought that instead of either laptop.

The smartphone/tablet operating systems are much better suited to mobile computing, specifically because they do support local storage. Syncing with the cloud is not the same as dedicating all storage to the cloud. Very, very different. In-browser apps like SourceKit are as close as it gets right now, but as soon as you pull the network connection, even SourceKit gets really flakey. I like SourceKit, but I think the supporting architecture just isn't ready yet.

I can't over-state how much this has made the Cr-48 a non-starter for me.

My full Cr-48 review here: http://wherein.posterous.com/

> The lack of utility offline is very non-trivial.

So the question is, does $20 / month get you connectivity as well? Fingers crossed it includes a data plan sufficient for most student's use, in which case it could be a very economical way for them to get a good mobile data connection without a prohibitive contract.

You can't buy 100% connectivity. Or even a reliable 85%. It's simply not available in the marketplace. You drop enough packets and some part of your work flow is going to fail, likely taking your data with it.

I suspect that a hybrid approach will win out in the in, with local (disk) storage so ridiculously cheap these days. A system should just local sync, but make it appear that everything is working off the cloud. No connection? No problem, just use the local data instead (and make it seamless to the user). A 400GB spinning disk large enough for all the data a user is likely to use with a cloud service runs ~$25 these days.

You're going to need a whole new breed of faculty to support this. Tons of schools are still shackled to Office. I have tons of PowerPoint slides that look like crap when opened with Google Docs, and look even crappier when exported from Google Docs so I can share them with people who refuese to use the cloud. The same holds true for Word and Excel documents.

I'm not saying it's impossible... but I don't think the current education system is ready for that. Explain to the average college student (a non-techie) why the slideshow their professor gave them won't open on their Google laptop.

OTOH, our school is experimenting with lab virtualization, so all you need is the frontend software. I can run full Excel on my iPad, so maybe that's a usable route.

You just need a new breed of student, at my school almost all student presentations were done in google docs (the professors didn't mind, and wireless works well in the building). (This is pretty much limited to my class in the ME department though)

All collaborative lab reports and student assignments were done in google docs as well, everyone pretty much communicates through gmail if they aren't talking face to face as well.

It just depends on how people want to work, many students don't like having to spend all their time in the lab so they use Autodesk Inventor (free for students) over Pro/E Wildfire or Solidworks (in the computer lab). Students still do torrent the MS programs if they have to use them but when they don't they are fine with semi-equivalent free alternatives.

Microsoft's own online office site (docs.com) is underrated. Ironically enough it might become the killer app on Chrome OS.

Doesn't it require Silverlight? I doubt you can easily install Moonlight on Chrome OS.

EDIT: I just saw that they provide a crx version of the plugin, so it should be possible.

That's just for facebook. With a live account cou can office web apps tied with hotmail/skydrive.

We at work (a 4 year college) are busy moving all student email to Google Apps. The move will also cover network storage we currently provide to students.

When evaluating our options we found that students didn't seem to care about Google Docs, Microsoft's online Office tools, etc.


That stuff is easy to overcome. What is difficult to overcome is the anti-cheating software that only accepts .doc and .docx files

bring on the new breed.

Easy. Just print everything to PDF.

I was an education major for a while in college and have many friends and family who are educators, and I have to say that I absolutely hate when technology is thrust upon students and teachers without any thought as to how it will be applied.

A computer (or iPad or Kindle) can be a great educational tool, but there needs to be serious, thoughtful planning and training before these devices are put into the classroom. I like the idea of getting technology in the hands of kids so that they can experiment and discover (even more so with disadvantaged kids), but I think technology too often gets in the way in the classroom.

How many lessons would be more effective if a teacher walked though things on a chalkboard?

Addendum: I just found a PDF [1] outlining a iPad pilot program. The only tangible objective it lays out is creating an e-Portfolio. Look at all of the cost and effort required to get there! Perhaps there are compelling reasons to use iPads in the classroom, but too many proposals read just like this.

[1] http://www.ipodsibilities.com/iPodsibilities/iPodsibilities_...

Problem with this is that I can buy and own an AMD C30 based ASUS netbook for $299[1].

With this I have access to Office, browser of my choice, can sync my iPod/iPhone/iPad to it, connect it to the TV in my dorm (HDMI), and play WoW.

So in 16 months I've made back the money, and have a generally all around better experience.

[1] http://www.cdw.com/shop/products/ASUS-Eee-PC-1015B-Fusion-C-...

Add to that, that with the AMD C30 a student can download pirated university books(and not only books) and save tons of money.

My feeling is that the device will be offered for free/mandatory in some universities in order to try to reduce book piracy and make money for the uni.or at least some universities will try this. This also ties well with google books.

We'll have to wait for the details. This makes it sound like you are renting the device which would be a very bad direction for the industry to be moving in.

If it's something like how cellphones have a monthly cost for X months with an ETF but you really own the device then it wouldn't be as bad. Might even be decent for the poor student with a work study allowance like I had when starting out.

Why would a rental/lease be a bad option? Businesses do it for all sorts of equipment. Students already do it for books, why not for other things that are required for school?

Update: Thinking more on it while watching baseball, I do the same thing for my DVR. No up-front fee or contract, but I have an expensive piece of technology for a low monthly fee. I could buy a Tivo, but this works fine.

You are comparing watching TV to a vital communication tool that is essential to the student experience. It's fair enough that you may not have an issue with it. But in my opinion the thought of a large multinational being able to go "poof, I hereby revoke your access to the Internet" in an academic environment to be frightening.

There is also the factor of "crap, I somehow missed a payment and now I can't complete my coursework" when colleges are busy trying to get rid of computer labs because "everyone has a laptop".

If a student were to outright buy a netbook using financial aid then those concerns go away.

Again I wouldn't give a crap either way if it were a contract/ETF arrangement but rent to always rent just seems like a bad financial habit to develop early in life.

My ISP is a large corporation and can say "poof, I herby revoke your access to the internet" and I'd be pretty screwed. Miss a payment there and suddenly that distance learning class goes away too. Same for if you miss a payment to the university FWIW.

There are pros to this arrangement. Laptops get stolen all the time at universities and students aren't always known to keep great backups. Being able to log-on from anywhere (in one of those disappearing labs, another student's laptop or your smartphone) and having access to your stuff is a big win.

I think it's interesting and while wouldn't want this to be the only option I can definitely see the benefit of it being an option.

This makes a couple assumptions.

The first is that you wouldn't be fiscally responsible for the full cost if the device was stolen from you. In this case it would be worse than owning out right. As now you're on the hook for the cost of the device you lost at the time you need to pick up another device. Are they going to allow you to rent the second device? Details would be nice.

Also when at a college your college is usually your ISP. And at the one I work at as long as you have access to the classroom then you have access to the network.

I agree with the backups part but that is independent of this particular arrangement as Google Apps works on non-rented devices too. :)

> There is also the factor of "crap, I somehow missed a payment and now I can't complete my coursework" when colleges are busy trying to get rid of computer labs because "everyone has a laptop".

Assuming you're doing most of your work in Google Docs, this wouldn't be a problem. ChromeOS is really just a fancier thin-client, after all.

In fact, for a lot of forgetful/irresponsible students, having their data in Google's cloud is a good way to save their asses from data loss/device theft.

Google Docs assumes you have access to the Internet in a form that is usable for the composing a document. Hense why I mentioned the traditional computer labs going away.

I think for students renting may be win/win. If only taking spring and fall courses, a laptop for ~$60 per semester would be cool. This is assuming that it can be given up easily.

I'd be really skeptical about them making it that flexible. There has to be some minimum timeframe involved to make it profitable.

Maybe so. Although, it would be a relatively small loss for them if they were to provide this ability and eat the cost not covered. Many companies have been successful at using a campus to spread adoption, gain market info, etc.

Others have pointed out that this will increase the dominance of both Chrome and Google Docs/other Google apps. Perhaps Google looks at it as a loss leader to drive adoption on the real money maker, ads from Google.

Interesting move. Seems like an attractive option for students, especially if they let you swap out hardware when newer laptop models are released.

I wonder how much data collection will be built-in to the default installs; how locked-down those installs might be if you are paying them each month; how ads will be integrated into the platform. Seems like Google could make a good bit of money with this.

Can't you get a full Windows or Ubuntu laptop with student discounts on flex payments for around the same?

OT: I'm suddenly put in mind that the U.S. is being turned into a nation of renters.

(With concern about the negative connotations associated with the term/relationship.)

It's too soon to say how well this will do but if it's exactly like the Cr-48 it may have difficulty doing well. There needs to be SOME hardware functionality like being able to use a USB or something. Else, it would just be an iPad with a keyboard. Which doesn't sound so bad but it's no laptop replacement.

This is hardly innovative. MSN was using a similar deal to sell their dial-up service in 1999. It failed then too (since it was a bad deal overall and people who don't have the credit to buy a $499 PC are prone to defaulting on their debts)

It's interesting that techs and nerds are focused on this since, I think this laptop will be most useful in the humanities. When you can't run git, matlab, r, excel, etc. on a student machine you're science/tech degree is gonna be pretty schackled day one. Still think this is super rad for the wordsmiths out there.

So will this include a decent data plan? That would be real news.

Yay! More lock-in! :D

Yeah, the web is notoriously closed.

You are not using "the web", you are using services provided by specific third parties.

Those third parties can do whatever they want with their property, especially when it comes to free services such as Google Docs, Facebook, Yahoo Mail, etc.

So, basically, you're using the web.

In my Adwords experience I can safely say Google has the worst customer experience I have ever known. It makes Ebay look good.

Buyers should note these are cheap because they're going to be tracking your every move. Every site you visit and everything you type will be logged using the autocomplete function as it already is within Chrome.

This is something I have been thinking about for a long time -- and I really thought that KNO was going to bring it;

If you're going to offer an open device (meaning you put your own apps on it, its just a regular machine in the traditional sense) to students and think that they will have some magic incentive to pay for that device - that thinking is flawed - as (even as HNers point out) they can spend money they were planning on already spending on a system they have total control over and more choices WRT its features.

However, if you were to partner and build a knowledge/content delivery platform which was the real value of a device - and the hardware was incidentally delivery mechanism, then you could begin to have something of value.

For example, an OS, apps and content designed to be together and be a part of the curriculum.

I think this is where Khan Academy can really make a revolution - especially if they have support from various directions.

Right now, Khan Academy has content organized by subject - and there is the beginning of a teaching/tracking platform which provides tools for tracking a students progress.

This is the idea that needs to be expounded upon and put onto any of these systems-to-students ideas such as the google laptop.

Google is already going after education and enterprise organizations to provide email and apps-for-domains.

They really need to look at Khan Academy as the vector for really getting into this in a meaningful way.

If we take the idea of Meaningful Use from the medical space, and create Meaningful Education and begin to put a lot of great thought into the education platform - we could change the world of education.

We need real platform development that accounts for the content, context and containers in such a way that we really utilize technology in an augmenting way.

Google's approach with this model is bottoms up - where we need more tops down.

There are far too many assumptions that providing technology without contextual content and tools will foster innovation etc. but really we have not seen a real thought-out approach to this problem.

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