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by Ray Carlson

Q. I read that the top-selling laptop on Amazon is the Chromebook. What's that?

A. The Chromebook was developed by Google to operate through the Internet rather than within the computer. With Windows or the Mac OS X, software within the computer does everything except search the web. This laptop, though, uses on-line software for most tasks. An article like this is written using Google Docs, an online program which operates like Word, but with the software and resulting document online. Limited editing can be done when not connected to the web, but major work requires being connected. Like tablets and smartphones, it uses apps to run a large number of operations like creating slideshows, checking stock activity, playing TV, movies or music, etc.

Since it does not require opening and closing programs, turning on and off only requires ten to fifteen seconds, and it jumps between websites and programs very quickly. It's simplicity allows it to protect itself from malware.

A major reason for the Chromebook's popularity may be its low cost. The top seller was the Samsung variation which lists at about $250 with a version made by Acer listing at $200. Currently, lack of availability has pushed up the price on major websites, but once supply increases, the cost should return to these levels. Add the fact that it is not necessary to purchase expensive software suggests that these laptops should be of particular interest to those with limited incomes.

A major discussion is whether this reliance on the Internet reflects the wave of the future or a fad. Is some computing activity like complex financial work too complicated for on-line software? Is storing personal data and content on-line too risky either because of hackers or because some sites become unavailable for periods of time? Can sharing tasks and syncing content online work efficiently? We will discuss such issues in future columns and meetings of the Prescott Computer Society since such questions are too complex for one article.

Published: Courier 2/17/13 - Page 3C