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Chromebook and the Future of Educational Computing

The title of this blog is rather dramatic and “big”… the future of educational computing? Really? That’s a rather bold opinion. Considering Google is mastermind, I am not too concerned about making such a bold prediction. I will sneak preview my conclusion here: The impact on education will be as big or bigger than anything from the last decade because it will be affordable and web-based. It will level the playing field for schools with tighter (and shrinking) budgets.


First, what is a “Chromebook”? Google’s answer:

A Chromebook is a mobile device designed specifically for people who live on the web. With a comfortable full-sized keyboard, large display and clickable trackpad, all-day battery life, light weight, and built-in ability to connect to Wi-Fi and mobile broadband networks, Chromebooks are ideal for anytime, anywhere access to the web. They provide a faster, safer, more secure online experience for people who live on the web, without all the time-consuming, often confusing, high level of maintenance required by typical computers.

Interpretation:  The Chromebook is what used to be known as a “dumb terminal.” Don’t let “dumb” throw you off track.

In the “old days” of dumb terminals, everything was server-based. The machines that sat in people’s offices were just a means of contacting a giant company server, where all the data and software were stored. Fast forward a few decades, and we’re circling back around to a terminal that connects to servers owned by big Internet companies, like Google, where all the data is stored in a “cloud” and web based programs have replaced traditional software.

The Chromebook in and of itself will not have traditional programs installed, nor can they be installed. Everything will be web-based. The operating of the system will be a Linux based (open source) version that Google has written – Chrome OS. The premise of the Chromebook is that everything you do will be either “in the cloud” or available through apps. You will not need email software like Outlook Express. You will not use Microsoft Office, like Word, Powerpoint, Excel. You WILL use everything in Google’s web-based “Cloud” – Gmail for email, Google Docs for word processing (goodbye Word), spreadsheets (so long Excel), databases (adios Access), and more. But what about your photos? They’ll be stored in the cloud.  What about photo editing? You’ll use an app from the Chromebook store.

But what about my XYZ software? You won’t be able to run it. Google does say, “We are developing a free service called Chromoting that will enable Chrome notebook users to remotely access their existing PCs and Macs.” In other words, you would still need another machine to run a specific piece of software that isn’t replaceable through an App or Google Docs.

Chromebook’s Place in Education

For most educational purposes, the Chromebook will be the only machine needed, especially at elementary and middle school levels. This is extremely significant. The Chromebook will likely satisfy all the needs of elementary and middle school users. Depending on the Apps, it could very well satisfy the needs of high school students, as well.

One of the key educational applications that must be addressed are Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Blackboard, Moodle, and others. Chromebooks will be able to access any LMS because the point of LMS is that they are web-based.

Cost, Licenses, and IT Departments – The Revolution is Coming

Chromebooks for Business and Education includes computers, web-based user, device and application management and 24/7 admin support. Google is offering two computer hardware options:

Option 1 Option 2
Manufacturer Acer Samsung
Screen 11.6″ 12.1″
Weight 2.95 lbs. / 1.34 kg. 3.26 lbs / 1.48 kg
Battery 6 hours of continuous usage* 8.5 hours of continuous usage*
Price (3 year contract term) – $28/subscription/month with WiFi
– $31/subscription/month with WiFi and 3G access card
– $30/subscription/month with WiFi
– $33/subscription/month with WiFi and 3G access card
Additional specs http://www.google.com/chromebook/chromebooks-acer.html http://www.google.com/chromebook/chromebooks-samsung.html

Chromebooks for Business and Education customers pay a monthly subscription based on the number of Chromebooks ordered. Payments are in equal amounts for 36 months. The monthly subscription price includes your Chromebooks, administrator access to a web-based management console, and support resources. Chromebook contracts are available for a 36-month term only. Administrators can manage and set user, application and device policies for a large fleet of Chromebooks from the web-based control panel.

CFOs and VPs of Finance will be scrambling to number crunch the monthly cost, per machine, of Chromebooks to compare against their Microsoft (in particular) license, costs of IT support that will be largely replaced by Google, costs of administering version updates, etc.

Another option is what I’m calling the “hybrid” approach. Purchase end-user Chromebooks with wi-fi only (no data plans needed). Instead of having an educational subscription, Chromebooks can be purchased outright for as low as $349.

Some very key advantages to the Chromebook:

Automatic Updates.

All machines will be updated automatically. There will not be issues of students and staff using various versions of machines.

Your Chromebook gets better and better over time, unlike a traditional PC. When you turn it on, it updates itself. Automatically. All of your apps stay up-to-date, and you get the latest and greatest version of the operating system without having to think about it. Annoying update prompts not included.

Virus and Malware Protection

Chromebooks run the first consumer operating system designed from the ground up to defend against the ongoing threat of malware and viruses. They employ the principle of “defense in depth” to provide multiple layers of protection, including sandboxing, data encryption, and verified boot. Learn more about security.

Some very key disadvantages of the Chromebook:

Data Plans

The 3G version of the Chromebook will be an issue. The dataplans are very limited and can rack up huge bills.


It may sound silly to pin the failure or success of an entire revolution on one application, but iTunes could be the Chrome-killer. It’s difficult to find data on iTunes users, but ask for a show of hands in any classroom of who use iTunes as their music application. Expect a roomful of hands. How will Google battle iTunes? Google Music will allow for free transfer of iTunes music and free storage of 20,000 songs in the cloud. The benefit? You don’t need a huge hunk of hard drive to host your music, and you won’t need wires to synch your Android phone/music player … it will stream from the cloud. The negatives are aplenty as of now; however, Google’s industry is one of “release now, improve or add features later.”


For this reason, the cloud and Chromebook concept are, I believe, very serious contenders to the Mac/iPad/iPhone (or iTouch/iPod) holy grail. The Chromebook/Droid Phone/Android Tablet clearly are knocking on Apple’s door. They are taking a page out of Apple’s playbook, and they are releasing, early, an imperfect product. They know what the next version of the Chromebook will already look like. They’ll also take user feedback and build a killer 3.0 machine.

The impact on education will be as big or bigger than anything from the last decade because it will be affordable and web-based. It will level the playing field for schools with tighter (and shrinking) budgets. A full Chromebook will be priced at about half an iPad.

I would be remiss not to mention a name that has not come up this entire blog: Microsoft as competitor. They’re so 20th century, and they are, truly, dinosaurs.

Personally, I’m regretting the $2500 MacbookPro I bought last year. Then again, I probably will wait until that 3.0 Chromebook before I’d seriously consider buying one. This does, however, influence my decision on my next phone. I was holding out for the Verizon iPhone. I may, now, accept that Droid is the future and the future is now.

Categories: apple, education, google, technology
  1. May 22, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    For once, Apple is behind. The speculation of their new cloud music service: “scan your hard drive for songs and let you play those songs from their servers without having to upload them yourself.”

    Compared to Google Music: “lets users upload their music to Google’s servers and migrate their playlists and data from iTunes. The music player can be accessed from a Web browser as well as from an Android phone or tablet, and users can add up to 20,000 songs for free.”

    If this turns out to be factual descriptions of Apple’s Cloud music, then Google will race ahead with Chromebook, Android Tablets, and Droid/Android phones.

    Apple is still tethered to the hard drive. Google is truly moving to the Cloud.

  2. May 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Apple’s Cloud Music is speculated to be one in which hard drives are scanned for music, giving the user the right to stream those same songs from a cloud. This will keep the user tethered to a hard drive. It’s not truly Cloud computing, which Google Music *is*.

    If this is, in fact, Apple’s stab at music in the cloud, Google will race ahead. Chromebook, Android Tablets, and Droid/Android phones will truly be cloud computing. Apple will still be trying to sell their computers and tablets as the “base” from which you can access the cloud.


  3. December 21, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    You raise interesting points about the benefits of the Chromebook for education. However some institutions will still require access to Windows applications. In order to extend the benefits of Chromebooks schools will need to provide quick and easy browser-based access to these Windows applications and also to virtual desktops. Ericom AccessNow provides this support and enables Chromebook users to connect to Terminal Servers, physical desktops or VDI virtual desktops – and run Windows applications and desktops within a browser window, without having to install anything on the user device.

    Here’s an example of a large school district that is using Ericom AccessNow to provide 30,000 students and staff access to Windows applications from Chromebooks, iPads and other devices:

    Ericom also offers special pricing for education customers.

    For more info, and to download a demo, visit:

    Note: I work for Ericom

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