Google Chromebook lacks luster -- and purpose

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Bottom line

Web and Internet support

Chrome is a good browser, and it works with most websites, but not all. Some sites still block it because it's not Firefox or IE. Chrome also can do Flash (though you're beholden to Google to keep you up to date, which it doesn't do), but it can't do ActiveX, Silverlight, Java, or any other plug-ins. Chrome extensions aren't as versatile as Firefox add-ons, either.

Business connectivity

Fine if what you have are Web-based apps. Lousy if you need anything else -- including connecting to Windows or Mac OS X shares, exchanging files with people (you need to upload them somewhere before they can be used), printing, and connecting via any means that doesn't involve a Web browser (such as Skype). Although some L2TP/IPSec VPN support is built in, it's not obvious how to get at it and it's still considered experimental. Google Docs works OK, as do the Microsoft Office Web Apps, but neither is within shouting distance of the real Microsoft Office suite.

Application support

See Web and Internet support, then draw a line through anything else. The Chrome extensions Google calls "apps" aren't much more than demos. Carrying over from business connectivity, file format support is nonexistent, including Zip files. (My Android tablet lets me browse the contents of Zip files seamlessly, but the Chromebook doesn't even know what they are.) If you can do it on the Web, Chrome OS can probably do it -- but the world where you can do everything on the Web just isn't here yet.

Security and management

Pretty good. It really is impossible to get a virus or other malware on Chrome OS. Management lets you set up the browser how you like via a central console. The controls are not as fine-grained as some might like (there are whitelists and blacklists, but you can't choose settings on a per-site basis), but the Web browser security landscape is hardly as complicated as that of a full-blown OS.

Usability

Good, for what it can do. It's just a Web browser, after all. But as I was playing around with it, I found myself repeatedly doing Google searches on how you could do this or that with a Chromebook, and I repeatedly came up with keyboard shortcuts or settings that weren't documented anywhere. There's no manual. In general, not being able to do things you're used to doing and having to find a work-around will be frustrating to most users. And I wish the touchpad supported gestures; it's like a big, dumb, one-button mouse.

Hardware

It's a netbook: not a lot of ports, no expansion capability, average build quality. The keyboard and screen could be better, but the screen is at least bigger than those in most notebooks. Battery life is really pretty good.

Neil McAllister is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. He also writes InfoWorld's Fatal Exception blog.

This story, "Google Chromebook lacks luster -- and purpose" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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