12.09.2010

Google Chrome OS Notebooks and Education: What Cr-48 Means for Classrooms

Chromium on the Periodic Table
To think, I was excited just over the release of a native Google Reader app to the Android Market last week. This week, we get an entire bookstore, a preview of the new Google operating system, and a sneak peek at the notebook that will be the first to demonstrate the capabilities of the new OS. Thoughts on the those other items will have to wait, as I am most excited about the possibilities of Cr-48 (the cool code name for the notebooks) and education.

Nuclear Stability
First off, I have to give props to Google for throwing in the Cr-48 moniker. As a Chemistry teacher, I appreciate the tiny detail that went into using the element symbol and the mass number, though I was intrigued that "48" was used. I am glad that they didn't just spit out Cr-24 since that is the atomic number (most recognizable on the periodic table) as this would confuse our budding chemistry students. However, "48" was still an interesting choice since it is not one of the three stable isotopes of Chromium. In fact, the half life (how long it takes for 1/2 of the isotope to decay) of Cr-48 is just over 21 hours. If only that referenced the notebook's battery life, we'd be in business. In the end, Cr-48 just had a better ring to it than Cr-50, Cr-52, Cr-53, or Cr-54.

Less booting, More working
Teachers using netbooks for 1:1 initiatives or those using laptop carts such as the ones we have for several classes at ETHS will rejoice with the announcement of a boot time of about 10 seconds. Honestly, anything under a minute will be a welcome sight given the fact that it often takes at least this long to start up our Windows XP and 7 based netbooks and even longer to log into desktops. With less time lost to starting up and logging in, students get more time to use the notebooks for their intended purpose. Since our schedule features daily 42 minute periods, every minute is precious.  

Need for Speed
Google has built its brand name on a speedy search, and its Google Chrome browser often delivers a fast, no-frills web experience. This seemed to be the inspiration for the new Chrome OS, as users simply login at the beginning, and they then have access to their email (Gmail) productivity apps (Google Docs) and other services (Apps through the new Google Web Store). The result will hopefully be a quick and efficient way to get students directly to their work. I like the approach of creating a tool that doesn't dazzle you with looks, but rather focuses on speed and efficiency. Time will tell whether Google has the right formula with its shift in operating system.

Connect Anywhere
WiFi is becoming more widespread, as more homes are connected, and entire cities begin building public hot spots. However, we clearly are not at a point where everyone has access to the Web, and once students leave their connected schools, many find their homes isolated from the Internet, or they rely instead on a smartphone (mostly for Facebook). With Google's partnership with Verizon, the opportunity to purchase a reliable connection nearly anywhere can potentially bring all students to the same playing level. Schools may begin looking into partnerships with wireless companies to augment their 1:1 initiatives and in turn save money on hardware solutions within the school.

Sync and Durability
Perhaps, the coolest thing about the new OS is how little dependency there is on the native machine. As mentioned in the demo, a user's email, docs, and apps simply pick up where they left off. Logging into Google Chrome on one machine will produce a similar experience when logging into a Cr-48 notebook, and so on. For students, this would prove useful as they often work in a variety of environments ranging from school, to home, to a friend's house. For IT staff, this could mean saving valuable time and resources when a student experiences difficulty with a machine. Instead of losing time to re-image a notebook, trying to repair it in house, or worse yet, waiting for a third party to fix it, a student can get a backup notebook and pick up right where he or she left off.

I am excited at the possibilities that this project may potentially bring, not just because of the Google branding, but because the company brings a new and innovative way of thinking about notebooks, operating systems, and the user experience. I predict that this won't be just another tech tool that gets lost in the shuffle.

Click here to apply for participation in Google's Chrome Notebook Pilot Program.  Good luck!

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