What if Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars did come across a real Chromebook?

I have never been into the ‘idiot box’; I mostly watch documentaries. However we were on vacation at Myrtle Beach last month and it was snowing so we were stuck in the hotel room, that’s when I got hooked to DirectTV’s shows. I have become addicted to the Pawn Stars and do enjoy it a lot. I admire the owner of the shop Rick Harrison who has immense knowledge and great skills to spot fake. Unfortunately, for him, I was surfing the net I came across Microsoft’s propaganda website (something similar to Vladimir Putin’s Russia Today) Scroogled News and there was an ad by Microsoft featuring the Pawn Stars team.

I learned that’s the much criticized ad. Companies run such ads all the time, but Microsoft goes to that extra mile of pissing off their competitor without showing any sign of ethics or morality. I knew that was a propaganda ad, as Microsoft now has someone on team who has helped US/UK politicians so we can expect more below-the-belt ‘religious’ kind of attacks from this 30-year-old dinosaur.

What I found out of the place was Pawn Stars. I feel that the ad just doesn’t go with the reputation of Rick, The Spotter. It was quite contrary to the image of the guy who has a lot of conscience and often tells people the real price of stuff if he thinks they are asking too little.

I wondered what would happen if a real customer walks into the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop with her Chromebook. From what I have learned about Ricks’ family and the show, I think this is how things will unfold in the ‘real’ life.

A customer enters the G&S Pawn Shop with a box.

Rick: So what do we have here?

Customer: I have this laptop?

Rick: How did you get it?

Customer: My grandmother gave it to me last Christmas. I have never used it so it’s in a very good condition.

Interview of the customer: I got this laptop from my grandmother last Christmas, since I already had a Windows laptop I never opened or used this one. But my Windows laptop has become very slow and it can’t upgrade to the latest version of Windows so I need to get a new laptop. I was watching a Microsoft ad where they said this Chromebook is not a real laptop. I am here to sell it so that I can use that money to buy real Windows laptop. I want $200 from it, but I can go as low as $150.

Rick: [Picks the laptop, looks around it]. So what do you want to do with it, pawn it or sell it?

Customer: I want to sell it.

Rick: To be honest I don’t know anything about it. So if it’s fine with you I would call my buddy who knows a lot about these things and he will be the best person to tell us what’s it worth.

Customer: Yes, sure.

Rick’s Interview: We use computers here in the office, but I really don’t know a lot about them. So I am getting my buddy Josh here to look at this device. If it was a gun I can tell everything, but if it is a computer I have to Google and my buddy is a walking Google [laughs].
Josh Interview: My name is Josh and I am an expert in information technology. Rick calls me when he has any question about electronics or IT products.

Josh to the customer: Oh, you got a Chromebook. What do you know about it?

Customer: Not much. I think it’s a laptop, but I was watching Microsoft ads where they said it’s pretty much useless.

Josh: Google launched Chromebook way back in 2011 to ensure that companies like Microsoft won’t destroy their entire business by locking them out.

Rick: But this is not a laptop as it doesn’t have Windows or Office, you see that logo there?

Josh: Windows and Office are just software. A laptop has nothing to do with what software runs on it. A gun is a gun it doesn’t matter what caliber of bullet it takes.

Rick: [Laughs] Right.

Josh: There are laptops which run Apple’s Mac operating systems. There are laptops which come with operating systems like Ubuntu. So, it is a laptop just that it runs a different operating system. Windows laptops run Windows operating system and this ones run on Google’s Chrome OS.

Rick: That’s fine, but Google tracks you when you use this thing. They know everything.

Josh: Well, everyone tracks you today. Microsoft tracks you, Google tracks you, Apple tracks you, Facebook tracks you. You track your customers too.

Rick: But why do they need to track you?

Josh: Google’s main business is advertising. Google is the world’s largest advertising company. All these products are to create billboards for Google. You are a Pawn Shop owner and if you want to put expensive ads at stores, what kind of places you would want to put your ads at – places where kids or college students come or you want ads at places where people who have interest in antics come? Do you really care when you pay to the advertising agency where your ad will go?

Rick: Well, of course.

Josh: That’s what Google does. They just analyse what kind of things an Internet user is interested in so they can show appropriate ads. So if there is a user reading about old guns on a website he will see the ad of your Pawn Shop selling a musket from 1500. Is there any point showing that user an ad for coffee mug?

Rick: Interesting!

Josh: What Google does is it offers free services in return of this ‘so-called’ tracking. It’s more or less like you offer people free services at your pawn shop, like free parking or free delivery etc in return of telling you what they buy from your store so this way when the user comes again next time, you have a pattern and you know what that person is looking for and instead of wasting his and your time you will show those items that she bought earlier. It helps you and it helps the user. You actually already do that. Everyone in this store, who deals with customers, have a mental map of each customer and you know what they are looking for when they visit your shop. Imaging a scenario where the moment a customer walks into your store you know what he is interested in. You will immediately know that this person is interested in buying caps of baseball players. This demand also helps you in picking right stuff when someone comes to sell you something. You buy things that you know you can easily sell otherwise you will have a huge unsold stock and the shop will go in losses, so as a business you do want to analyze customer pattern.

Rick: Right.

Josh: That’s what Google does. It shows ads of products and services that it sees you are looking for on the Web. The thing is Microsoft is also in the same business. They also have an ad network where they track users and show ads from companies. When you use Internet Explorer, Microsoft tracks you, when you use Window – Microsoft tracks you, when you use Skype, Microsoft listens to your calls, when you use Xbox Microsoft tracks you. According to reports, Microsoft was the first company to comply with NSA to assist them in tracking people. The biggest difference is Microsoft’s ad network is more or less a failure in comparison to Google.

Another big difference between Google and Microsoft is that Google offers all of its services for free in return of knowing what you do online. Its ad network actually enables smaller players and individuals in monetizing from their work by displaying ads on their sites or YouTube videos. So Google is not only creating jobs for people, they are also offering free services. Microsoft’s case is different. They track you and still charge you heavily for their products. So a user doesn’t get anything in return of the information that Microsoft collects. So when Microsoft accuses Google of doing all, that doesn’t really make any sense.

Customer: So you are saying Microsoft is screwing us twice and telling that its Google that’s screwing us?

Josh: Exactly.

Rich: Ok. We are all getting tracked, which is good for business. Let’s come back to this thing here. It doesn’t work when there is no Wi-Fi, it’s like a brick?

Josh: No. That’s just plain wrong. It’s like any other laptop; if there is no Wi-Fi you won’t be able to connect to the Internet. But there are models which come with 4G built in so you can access the Web when you are not near Wi-Fi. You can also get a USB dongle to get Internet and then you can always create HotSpot from your smartphone. So if there is no Wi-Fi you can still connect this thing to the Internet.

Rick: But if there is no connectivity, then it is a brick.

Josh: That’s not true. You can work offline on your Chromebook, the way you do on Windows or Mac laptops. There are many offline apps which can work even when there is no Internet. You can go to the Chrome Web Store and filter the apps by offline availability. All major apps are available offline. So you can write your mails, work on your Docs and do everything in offline mode.

Rick: So this thing does work offline. I didn’t know [laughs].

Rick: But if you see that icon of Chrome and Google that means it’s not a laptop. It doesn’t have Microsoft Office.

Josh: That’s interesting. Those logo means it’s Google’s Chromebook. It’s a laptop with a different operating system – like Windows or Mac. As far as MS Office is concerned, Chromebooks come with Google Docs and many other applications that work like Microsoft Office. The good thing is that your work is always saved online so you will never lose your documents. Then you can also use Microsoft’s online version of Office. Do you see this logo? Do you recognize it? [asks the customer]

Customer: Yes. That’s Chrome browser I use it on my PC.

Josh: Correct. Chromebook, as the name implies, offers everything from within a browser. Tell me one thing, which is the first app that you start when you open your laptop?

Customer thinks: I open a browser.

Josh: And what do you do there?

Customer: I log into Facebook, check my mails, work on my projects, documents, watch some YouTube videos…something Netflix.

Josh: So which application are you using to do all of that?

Customer: Hmm…the browser and Google Docs.

Josh: Exactly, all you use is a browser, all the time and we have already talked about Google Docs.

Rick: That’s interesting. Chum plays Solitaire all the time.

Josh: It has Solitaire, too. So, Rick as a businessman what makes more sense to you – to keep only those things in your shop which sell a lot or cram your shop with stuff no one ever comes looking for?

Rick: We are reluctant to buy stuff that’s going to sit for a while, and we never buy anything that we know is never going to be sold, unless we want it for ourselves.

Josh: So, how much sense does it make to put all that software on your computer that you never touch?

Rick: It doesn’t make any sense.

Josh: Exactly, that’s what Chromebook does. It gives what a majority of people use today – a browser. You can actually use everything that’s available online – including Microsoft Office on your Chromebook. So why would you pay $1000 to buy a laptop with stuff you are never going to use, when you can get a $200 laptop with that one thing which you use all the time?

Rick interview: [Actually that makes a lot of sense. That’s why I always get my experts to appraise something I don’t know much about. Now let’s see if I can get that Chromebook, because I would hate to see it walking out of my door. But everything depends on price. I am here to make money.]

Rick: Does anyone buy it? What’s it worth?

Josh: Oh boy, this is the hottest selling laptop in the market. Chromebooks have been the best-selling laptops on Amazon for the last two years. As far as this laptop is concerned, it’s in very good condition. The software stays updated automatically. I would say you can easily sell this device for $149.

Rick: Thanks Josh [he leaves].

Rick to customer: So how much do you want for it?

Customer: Well, as he said that it can get more around $149.

Rick: Yes, I know but I am not a collector. I am a re-seller. I have to make some money from it. I can offer you $99.

Customer: After listening to your expert. I think I don’t need to buy a Windows PC. I think I will keep it and may buy another one and give one to my friends. I hate that I didn’t use it for all that while.

Rick: Well, I am sorry that we couldn’t have that deal. But if you ever want to sell it you can give me a call.

Rick: I really hated to see that laptop walk out of the store. If I bought it I would have kept it for myself. [Laughs.]

Rick in his office with Chumlee, Big Hoss and The Old man: Have you heard of Chromebook?

Chum: Did you say Facebook?

Rick: No, I said Chromebook.

Big Hoss: Yes, I have one at home.

The Old Man: What’s Chromebook fat-head?

Rick: That’s a very cheap laptop that does everything from the Internet.

The Old man: Son, Internet is a fad. It will go away. Damn it, Chumlee, where is my coffee…

About Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.