For consumers who find they really only use a computer to get online and not much else, Google now has the Chromebook, a brand of internet-only computers officially introduced in Canada on Tuesday.
Chromebooks look like standard laptops but don't come loaded with a version of Windows or a Mac operating system. They run on Google's Chrome OS, a streamlined platform with the web browser as the main attraction.
They're being pushed as a low-cost device — they start at about $250 — for users who spend most of their time on a computer using the internet, and therefore don't need the processing power to run full-blown software applications. They can connect to the web via Wi-Fi or mobile networks.
Stripping away the convoluted operating system and setting things up so users can jump right into the web makes the experience simpler and faster, said Google's Caesar Sengupta, product management director.
"The whole idea is basically to have a computing experience that's extremely simple, that's very stable, very secure, and sort of just gets out of your way," Sengupta said.
Chromebooks turn on quickly like mobile devices — although they still take a few seconds to boot up after being shut down. There's a store with a selection of simple programs and games to access, and web-based applications — such as the Google Docs suite to create documents and spreadsheets — run smoothly within the Chrome browser and store files online. Consumers who have been frustrated with the limitations of tablets, and miss a keyboard, may find Chromebooks are more suitable substitutes for a full-blown laptop. Asus, HP and Samsung all plan to release Chromebooks in Canada.
While some users will be uncomfortable with the concept of an internet-only machine — although you can use some apps while offline — Google saw a growing demand for it.
"Users today, particularly the younger generation, are very web savvy ... the current generation of people or kids are very used to having stuff in the cloud, they prefer that model," said Sengupta.
"For many people they won't move completely (to the Chromebook concept) but it's a fantastic second computer.... But from our point of view we absolutely feel this is where modern-day usage is heading, this is where users are heading, so that's what we're building towards."