Google's Chromebook is the first step in the Evolution of the PC in the Post-PC World

If Google plays its cards right, the Chromebook could be setting the stage for the future of computing in its traditional form.

Yesterday, Google and Samsung announced a sequel to the original Chromebook launched last year. The idea behind the Chromebook is that it’s a device in a laptop form factor that is optimized for this cloud-driven, post-PC era that we now live in, and while it looks like a traditional laptop, there are several major differences.

First, the Chromebook does not run a heavy OS like Windows that can take what seems like half your work morning to boot. Windows machines are great when you first get them, but it seems like within months it’s the same old story with too many things being launched at start up, dragging the boot time on and on and on… Macs are better in this regard, but there’s still a lag between when you turn them on and when they’re fully ready to use. Google’s Chrome OS is a lightweight operating system that allows for almost “instant on.”

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Another major difference is that the Chromebook does not have a resident hard drive. Instead, they have 16 GB of flash memory, which is faster for sure but is a far cry from the terabyte hard drives found in laptops today. The device does have two USB ports for external drives or other devices to be plugged in.

The new Chromebook released, the S 550 from Samsung, which starts at $449, is supposed to be about 2.5 times faster than the original (which started as low as $299), has a higher-end graphics card for HD video, adds the ability to work on documents off line, and allows users to read content created in the Microsoft Office suite, such as Word and Excel.

One last enhancement was the modification of the user interface. Instead of just getting a desktop and Chrome browser, the new OS is much better laid out and gives users an application- or document-centric view of their workspace.

Google also announced a complimentary device called the “Chromebox,” which is a desktop form factor. It’s a small box that one could plug a monitor, keyboard and mouse into and have an instant on, fast home PC.

Although sales of the initial release of Chromebooks were light, I do think that this version is hitting the market at the right time. Critics may say that the limited hard drive space is a problem, but I question that. We already live so much of our lives in the cloud. Why not store documents there? The offline ability allows people to work when not connected to the cloud so users can have access to the content they need, when they need it.

Also, it’s a great compliment to tablets. For all the hype around tablets, they aren’t great devices to input information on. Users can now create documents, Power Points, spreadsheets, etc. on the Chromebook, save them in the cloud and then access them from a tablet when they want to display them later. The work style Chromebooks promote is one that is highly cloud optimized, which is exactly the direction the industry is headed in.

I think the ideal market for this device is K-12 education, and that’s where Google should focus much of its energy. Within schools, there has been a strong desire to create a one-to-one ratio of devices per student. Doing this with traditional Windows laptops and resident software is way too expensive, which is why all but the most affluent of neighborhoods has been able to even come close to this. Google should offer schools something like a four-year deal of a Chromebook plus access to Google Apps for something like $10-$20 per user per month. This creates a low barrier to entry and gets the younger generation off of Windows, building future demand for Chrome.

I liked the initial release of Chromebook and I’m a big fan of this release as well. I think Google’s biggest challenge is getting people to just try the device. I believe once users try it, they’ll love the speed and ease of use. While we are moving into the post-PC era, laptops and PCs aren’t going away altogether. They just need to evolve.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.