Google yesterday announced the launch and availability of the first Chromebox, a mini PC running Linux-powered ChromeOS.
In my opinion Chromebox and Chromebook are a major threat to Microsoft's core market -- businesses. The desktop as we know it is almost dead and with Microsoft's switch to Metro will further put a nail in the traditional desktop market. Desktop is being used only by those who either create content and use it for editing audio, video and images. Applications which need massive processing power to handle the workload. The desktop is also used for gaming (though the consoles are picking up).
The rest of us either keep a beefy desktop with 8 cores and 16GB RAM only to browse the Internet, chat with friends, read content or watch movies. We barely leave the browser. I must admit I am a desktop user and heavily rely on applications such as GIMP, Kdenlive, Thunderbird and also do video editing from time to time. So, I do have a life outside the browser. But in most cases as long as you give me a text editor and a browser I will survive.
That's exactly what Chromebox gives me -- a browser. I was reading on a website where some users were whining about the Intel Celeron processor being used in the age of quad cores. I question, why do you need a rocket to move a shopping cart? You don't need quad core to run a browser, that too a slick browser like Chrome. You can see I am barely using 25% or system resources on my Ubuntu with KDE where as I am playing a HD movie, running at least 20 tabs of Firefox and 2-3 tabs of Chromium, LibreOffice, GIMP, Gedit and Thundebird. 75% of the system resources are never used. So, you don't need quad core or massive RAM on Chromebooks or Chromebox.
A bit about the hardware
- Intel Core processor
- 4 GB RAM
- Built-in dual-band WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n
- Gigabit ethernet
- 6 USB 2.0 ports
- 2x DisplayPort++ Output (compatible with HDMI, DVI, VGA)
- DVI-I single link output (compatible with VGA)
- Bluetooth 3.0 compatible
- Kensington key lock compatible
A bit about software
Since ChromeOS runs from cloud so you can do everything that you can from a browser. You can access/share your content using Google Drive. You can watch locally stored movies on in-built player. You can watch movies through Netflix, Google Movies, Amazon and many such services well supported on Chromebox. You can listen to your local music collection though Google Music, and of course buy music from Google or Amazon. You can read eBook, play games and everything else that you do in a browser. Then you also have access to a wide range of Google services such as Google Docs and presentation. So, as long as you don't need GIMP of LibreOffice (or Photoshop or MS Word) you are fine with Chromebox.
I find Chromebox to be as appealing as is Chromebook, even more as unlike Chromebook which is a mobile device and without Internet it will be nothing more than a nice paperweight if you are in a region without the Internet. This is troublesome in Europe where they still charge heavy roaming fee when you are in a different country. I think Europe must get rid of two things -- roaming fee and pay to pee.
Why Chromebox makes more sense is that you can expect 24x7 connectivity at your home or office so there won't be chances of you not able to work just because you are in a bad area.
Chromebox and Chromebooks can be an excellent replacement for expensive Windows PC which are mainly used by employees to access the Intranet or applications running on private cloud via a browser. The cost of ownership and maintenance is extremely low as it is updated automatically, free of cost and without breaking your system. The only grey area is connectivity with devices like printers and scanners.
At the same time Chromebox can be an excellent PC for my mom and grandpa. I won't have to worry about any kind of support or maintenance as there is nothing in Chromebox that they can break. There won't be any virus warnings or update notifications. There are no blue-screen of death or system crashes. It just works. I can speak from my own experience as beforebecoming a full time Chromebook user my wife was first a Mac and then Ubuntu user. She would come to me every now and then about something now working. Now, only time I hear from her is when she needs to print something. I have never heard any complaint from her about her Chromebook. So, I will give Google credit for doing it right.
Where Chromebox Hurts
Connecting to your local printers. Printing documents via a ChromeOS powered device could be a challenge if you have a generic network connected printer. Chromebox can't detect or connect to local printers. It is capable of printing via Google Cloud Print. What it means is if you have a smart printer which can connect to the Internet you can print your document remotely. Luckily we have an HP cloud enabled printer so we can use it with our Chromebook. But my wife, who is a full time Chromebook user finds it easier to forward the document to me and then I print it from my Ubuntu machines. So, ChromeOS based devices do have a limitation when we talk about connecting to devices like printers. Same is the case with scanners, you can't scan documents through your Chromebox using the local printer scanner.
I don't have to recommend a Chromebox to anyone. If your use-case is similar to any of those that I mentioned above, you are a potential Chromebox user. What I can talk about is the OS and experience around the software as we own a ChromeOS device and my wife is extremely happy with it.
So, the question is -- will you buy the Chromebox?