The re-invention of the “dumb” terminal

The re-invention of the “dumb” terminal

Last week, Google sent Thinker TechLab a nice new Haier Chromebook to test. This is a small 11 inch laptop designed for school students to use. It’s retail cost is only $150, plus taxes, and it boasts a waterproof keyboard and is supposed to be more rugged than normal. I took it to a meeting of IT technicians and had a few school district techs look at it last week. Their first impression was favorable, but wondered how easy it would be to change the LCD and Touchpad, which, apparently, is what they do with most of their time. They all agreed that a waterproof keyboard was good, but noted that teachers spill things on computers much more often than students!

Having a Chromebook has been an interesting experience. It’s remarkable just how much I don’t need a regular PC, which has me thinking about how computing is coming full circle again.

In the 80s and 90s, most companies had a high powered server with dumb terminals connected to them. Today, everyone has a Windows machine sitting on their desk with much more computing power than their old server had, yet the biggest headache is coming into work and discovering your Windows computer wants to install 38 updates and will be down for an hour! (Or with Windows 10, your computer now wants now to upgrade the whole system – as happened to one of our staff this morning).

There is an idea that most people in the business world actually use only a handful of applications. They spend most of their time online. Most business applications are either moving or will move to a cloud and will be accessible through a web browser.

Ten years ago someone’s life was encapsulated in their laptop. If their laptop died or was stolen it was a major, traumatic event. Today, the average person expects to use four different devices throughout the day (Work PC, Phone, Tablet, Laptop) and expects their data to follow them around. Google believes that in a few years time, people will be using 40 different devices daily, and yet still expect access to all their data, on all of those devices.

Enter the Chromebook.

The chromebook is a light, affordable laptop based around the Chrome browser. In fact, that’s all it is! Very little data is saved on the device itself, it’s all saved in Google’s cloud, or Drive. However, without your Google password – no data can be retrieved from the device itself. (Which is good for security and compliance reasons!) Updates take 8 seconds, instead of thirty minutes or more, and the device can be locked down using the Chromebook management suite. For instance, if you don’t want your Spanish class using Google Translate during class or you want to block Facebook from your workplace, you can.

We’re using one for a business which needs to use email, print and have access to their in house software via Remote Desktop. The machine is affordable enough that we will simply replace it if it breaks, and as everything is in the cloud, a new machine will take about 1 ½ minutes to configure! We have actually recommended that the President of that company use a Chromebook, as it “just works” and his main role is responding to email and writing, both of which the Chromebook does excellently.

Printing is a little bit more involved, as all pages need to go via Google’s print service, but once setup, you can print from McDonald’s and arrive home to your document! In fact, we are likely to use this print service to connect the same client’s printers together across multiple sites.

Chromebooks are becoming so popular in places like education that Microsoft has just launched it’s own version, the Cloudbook. However, this is a cut-down Windows installation, so it remains to be seen if it will be adopted as it’s not as easy to manage and the only thing which makes it compete is the price.

So, the fast, high powered workload is once again being done on the expensive server, although this time it’s located with Google or in the “Cloud” somewhere. The Chromebook is a nice, much prettier “dumb” terminal which can be run wirelessly from anywhere there is a wifi connection.

If you’re interested in seeing one in action – let us know.