Ever since it came out, the Chromebook line of ultra-cheap laptop computers has relied heavily on a connection to the Internet. That’s why they were so much cheaper than other laptops. Since all of the apps were Web apps, and your photos and documents were stored in the cloud, manufacturers could keep the Chromebook hardware low-powered and inexpensive. But if you tried to use a Chromebook without an Internet connection, there just wasn’t much you could do. Thanks to a number of recent updates, that’s no longer the case, which means Chromebooks are finally becoming reasonable, budget-friendly replacements for some people’s PC needs.
The march to making Chromebooks usable offline has been slow and steady. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) led the charge by added offline support for its apps, like Google Drive and Gmail, and they’ve been urging developers to do the same. Now there are all kinds of offline-capable apps for Chromebooks, including games, calendars, task lists, photo editors, and more. To make clear the distinction between apps that require an Internet connection and apps that work offline, Google has added an “Offline Apps” section to its Chrome Apps store.
In an interview with PC World, Caesar Sengupta, the vice president of product management for Chromebooks at Google, said, “As the ecosystems evolve, more and more developers are writing apps using Chrome APIs so they work offline. … The platform has evolved and keeps improving. It is an OS that updates every six weeks. It keeps getting better.”
Google is hoping people notice the improvements, especially PC users who are looking for a new laptop. As luck would have it, Microsoft has just offered up a sizable market for Google to pitch Chromebooks to, thanks to its recent cutting of support for Windows XP. Because many users will have to upgrade their PCs to run a newer operating system, they’re likely to shop around. When they do, Google wants them choose a Chromebook over a new Windows machine. In part, that means easing the transition for former PC users by offering a feature-rich offline experience. As an added bonus, Google is giving discounts to customers who make the switch from Windows XP.
Home consumers aren’t the only ones Google is interested in converting to Chromebooks users, either. According to PC World, the retailer Woolworths recently began issuing Chromebooks to its employees, instead of Windows PCs.
“The world has changed,” Sengupta said, “you’re looking at different kind of [computing] needs than XP.”
And that’s just it. Many people, especially people who were doing fine using an outdated operating system like Windows XP, have very simple needs from a laptop. If all you do on your computer is browse the Web and send emails, a Chromebook is now a viable option. And for people who prefer desktop computers, you can buy a mini-desktop “Chromebox” that you can hook up to a mouse, keyboard, and monitor.
If you’ve considered replacing your PC with a Chromebook but don’t always have an Internet connection handy, check out Google’s info page on using your Chromebook offline, and ZDNet’s guide to what Chromebooks can do offline.