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The Puzzling Case of the Chromebook Pixel

Here in the Linux blogosphere, most fans of FOSS are nothing if not outspoken with their many opinions.

Those opinions tend to be unequivocal on matters large and small, so it’s always notable when a new technology comes along that leaves bloggers scratching their heads in uncertainty.

That’s a rarity, needless to say, but just recently a shining example emerged in the form of the Chromebook Pixel.

A Resounding ‘Why?’

Linux Girl

Starting at US$1,300, Google’s new laptop entry is clearly priced at the high end of the market. It also boasts an impressive array of high-end specs.

What’s confusing to many, however, is that it’s still essentially a browser-based portal to the Web — incapable, it may seem, of making full use of its own inherent capabilities.

Ever since its release, a single word has dominated the musings of countless geeks around the world — namely, “Why?”

‘What Is the Point?’

“Why Google bothered to make the Chromebook Pixel” was one effort to answer that question over at PCWorld.

“Google Pixel Chromebook: A Marvel of Technology or Oddity?” was the focus at Linux Advocates.

“What Is the Point of Google’s Chromebook Pixel?” was the headline at The New York Times.

Chromebook Pixel

The Chromebook Pixel

A High-Profile Thumbs-Up

“Why Google built the pricey, powerful Chromebook Pixel” was CNET’s contribution.

The debates were already raging at full volume throughout the community’s blogobars and watering holes when none other than Linus Torvalds himself spoke up to extol the perplexing device.

It’s been standing room only down at the blogosphere’s seedy Punchy Penguin Saloon ever since.

‘I Don’t See Much of a Market’

“I was wondering how long it would take before a Google executive presiding over the latest Google product launch would figure out that there are an awful lot of MacBooks lying around,” mused Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor. “Other than creating a nice, classy device for Google personnel to use, I cannot imagine why Google would create the Chromebook Pixel.”

The device is “priced too high to be a volume seller,” Lim told Linux Girl. “Even at the low US$199 to US$249 prices that Chromebooks are sold on Google Play, it is not like they are selling in the millions.

“An expensive Chromebook also defeats the very purpose for running a light, but limited, operating system like Chrome,” he added. “Outside of Google itself, I don’t see much of a market.”

Nevertheless, “despite my less than favorable comments, the Chromebook Pixel is worth every penny for the right kind of user,” Lim concluded. “If you need a terabyte of Google Drive storage, you can get a good discount by buying a Chromebook Pixel. If you look at it in that light, as a bonus for heavy Google Drive users, it is a really nice freebie.”

‘It’s Not for High-End Systems’

Similarly, “it’s very cool, but no one is really going to buy it,” agreed Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone.

“I love Chrome OS, but it’s not for high-end systems,” Stone explained. “No one wants to drop $1200 for a system that only runs Web apps.

“True, it looks like it can be used for other things, like running other Linux based systems, but so can quite a few other less expensive laptops,” he pointed out. “I wish Google all the luck with their Chromebooks, but I just don’t see this one as a mega seller.”

‘My Wallet Will Stay Firmly Shut’

And again: “I am still not convinced,” said Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien. “I know that there is a convenience factor in putting everything into the cloud, but I keep having issues. WiFi is not ubiquitous and high-speed right now, which would be a precondition for me.”

In fact, “my experience is that when I am away from home (e.g. at a hotel), I can just about check my e-mail, but streaming audio or video is just out,” he explained. “And Google Apps is not equivalent to a full-featured office suite like LibreOffice.”

Bottom line: “I could maybe imagine buying a $250 Chromebook just for convenience,” O’Brien concluded. “But at $1300, my wallet will stay firmly shut. I could buy two good laptops for that amount of cash.”

‘The Rest Want a Real Computer’

Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. took a similar view.

“Chromebooks are meant to get a good piece of the market and attract users to Linux,” he explained. “Some of the computer users are ‘cloud people,’ living online. For them, a good and not-so-expensive note/netbook is a good deal.”

On the Chromebook Pixel, however, Google “should take care of the price,” Gonzalo Velasco C. told Linux Girl. “The rest of the users, like me, want a real computer (hard drive, applications, RAM and processor do work, etc.).”

‘Somewhat Inexplicable’

Even more so: “It will give me a small amount of pleasure if the Chromebook Pixel fails, as it so rightfully deserves to do,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza said.

“Chromebooks are little more than tacit acceptance of Google’s inability to bring Chrome to Android in a compelling fashion, and they ought to disappear rapidly when they finally manage it, since all of their design goals are the same as those of Android,” Espinoza explained.

“An expensive Chromebook ought to be a contradiction in terms,” he added. “The inexpensive models would seem to provide some of the best value in computing, which makes it somewhat inexplicable that Google should also choose to produce an expensive model which seems to provide some of the worst.”

‘It’s a THIN CLIENT, Folks’

Even stronger: “To steal a line from Austin Powers, ‘How about NO ya loonie!'” quipped Slashdot blogger hairyfeet. “I mean who is THAT stupid, because frankly I’ll be happy to sell them some magic beans to go with their Pixel.

“It’s a THIN CLIENT, folks, that is ALL it is,” hairyfeet explained. “You are gonna pay TOP DOLLAR for a system that is a brick if your Wifi goes out? Seriously?”

Hairyfeet also had another concern: “Does this mean we can FINALLY put ‘do no evil’ right next to ‘think different,’ considering how Google makes their bootloaders an even bigger PITA than Secure Boot?” he asked. “At least with Secure Boot you can turn it off.

“You can’t just turn off Google’s locked boot,” he added. “Instead you gotta deal with dev mode and a page of CLI hacks just to get the stupid thing to take, and last I checked NO dual booting allowed. At least with a Win 8 system you can install Linux or Win 7 in a dual boot.”

Looking ahead, “I have a sad feeling that if the FOSS community doesn’t get behind AMD and help them put up some real numbers, it’s gonna be game consoles all the way down,” he warned. “You’ll have the big three with locked down hardware, and Intel is even talking about soldering the CPU and RAM to the board so if you want more memory, you’ll have to go buy a new system.”

‘Hitting All the Bases’

Blogger Robert Pogson had a more optimistic take.

“The Chromebook Pixel is a high-end machine — it competes with the likes of iPad,” Pogson told Linux Girl. “Google has long ago overtaken iPhone, but there is still a battle raging for tablets. This is just Google hitting all the bases.”

After all, “Google has the money to invest, and there are buyers for high-end stuff,” he added. “Android/Linux will still thrive and expand on the low-end tablets.”

‘M$ Cannot Thrive’

The presence of “multiple choices of OS on tablets allows GNU/Linux to be seen as just another choice and to be available on retail shelves,” Pogson pointed out. “That’s happening more often since about 2010-2011, when iThingies took off.”

Today, “Wintel’s partners can no longer tell anyone that Wintel is the only choice for anything now that everyone is producing ARMed tablets running a variety of operating systems,” he concluded. “Certainly M$ cannot thrive in this space.”

Last but not least, consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack neatly summed up what more than a few observers are surely thinking: “It should be interesting to see where Google goes with this.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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