I’m writing this blog on the last day of the 2012 FETC conference here in Orlando, FL. FETC stands for: Florida Educational Technology Conference. If you did not know what FETC stands for, you probably would not have found the definition on any of the conference materials. But that is not unusual these days. I’ve seen more and more people use acronyms without defining them assuming that the reader automatically knows what they mean. Unfortunately, that is not always easy. Maybe it bothers me so much because my first editor called me out on every undefined acronym I used if I did not define it the first time I used it.
When I first moved to Florida, I had to learn that DOE means Department of Education (state government) rather than Department of Energy (federal government). In case you are wondering, it is the Education Department at the federal level. Then I heard about the CIA on the Food channel. Were spies from foreign countries trying to steal our recipes so that we needed to call in Central Intelligence Agency operatives to protect our crusine? Later I find out they were really talking about the Culinary Institute of America. So it really wasn’t an international threat against America after all.
I guess my crusade against TLA (Three Letter Acronyms) continues. If you care to see how bad the use of TLA is, check out the following web site. It lets you enter an acronym to see dozens of possible meanings.
(There are other sites that do the same thing.)
My real focus of this blog is not to talk about acronyms, as much fun as that may be, but to discuss Google’s Eye Opener keynote. It focused on the new ChromeBook computer as a potential new tool for students to use in the classroom. It does have several very good features including:
- No touch setup
- Boot in 8 seconds or less
- Automatic updates to the OS and the browser
- Remote management of the devices
- No anti-virus software is needed
- Thousands of apps including some like Gmail, Calendar, and Google Docs that run offline.
All of that sounds great especially for smaller districts that do not have extensive technology support teams. But is it the right choice for you?
After the session, I went out to the Internet to get some more information on these devices. First, it appears that there are two primary manufacturers of this device, Acer and Samsung. The price point for a ChromeBook varies between $350 to $450 per unit. So the first thing that struck me was that the price, while less than an Apple iPad, was not all that much less than a standard netbook. So how is it different from a netbook?
I noticed is that the ChromeBook does not have a standard hard drive. Rather it uses a 16 GB SSD drive. Those are solid-state drives for those not familiar with that TLA. That is essentially the same memory used in your USB (Universal Serial Bus) thumb drives. In that respect, it is more like a Smart Phone or an iPad or similar tablet. In fact, to add applications, you will need to go out to Google’s Chrome app store. The apps found here are similar to those you find in Apple’s app store or the Android Market. While I did not see anything specific that would limit you to the Chrome app store, I also did not see anything to suggest that you could install and run Window or Linux applications either. It also was not clear to me whether any other apps such as those written for Android devices would work on ChromeBook. If true, that just means another app store and for developers, and another platform to port your applications to.
The elimination of any anti-virus also sounds great at first, but again I have to wonder if it is just too soon to know whether viruses can be created to specifically target applications that run on the ChromeBook. The documentation claims to protect the system by providing multiple layers of protection including sandboxing of running apps, data encryption, and verified boot processes.
A major advantage for school use is the long battery life. The Acer version boasts a 6 hour battery life while the Samsung version claims up to 8.5 hours. The Samsung also has a slightly larger screen giving it a slight edge between the two products. But again, even my Acer netbook gets at least a 6 hour life on its battery.
So is the ChromeBook really a better alternative to the netbook or a tablet? BTW (by the way), tablets have touch screen technology, the ChromeBook does not. The netbook has an internal hard drive which can hold more data and applications including standard Windows applications. On the other hand, Windows applications tend to cost more than apps in an app store. Neither of these devices have CD (compact Disc) or DVD (digital versatile disc) drives. Most other features are comparable.
The bottom line to me is that I do not see the ChromeBook as a runaway winner. Rather, it is just another strong competitor in the market for people who need basic computer applications and Internet access but don’t really need the power of full notebooks or desktop computers. Could this work for students in the classroom? Actually, I think the SSD drive for student computers is a better choice since it has no moving parts like in a traditional hard drive. In any case, I don’t believe it will be long before other netbooks begin to follow this trend especially as the price of SSD drives begins to fall. So if you have children going to a school that supports the use of digital technology, it might just be worth a look.