Samsung’s new $329 “Chromebox” is the first desktop computer to run the new Google Chrome operating system (Chrome OS). We think it and the “Chromebook” laptop could be the wave of the future – which in this business means the next year or so.

The Chromebox looks like a Mac mini. It’s a small box with no keyboard or monitor; you plug in the ones you already have. (Or you can buy new ones; they’re so cheap these days.) The screen looks like Windows, with icons for your programs. Now here’s the kicker and the motor in the car that makes the wheels go round: Unlike a typical computer, the Chrome software exists primarily on the web. So the Chromebox updates itself automatically whenever a new version or extra features come out. In addition, the box is fast on the web and self-corrects any running problems whenever you turn it on.

We‘ve been playing with the Chromebox and a new version of the Chromebook, the $450 Samsung Series 5-550 laptop. It’s a nice improvement over the Acer Chromebook we bought and wrote about in April, though we liked that too. (Did we mention that things move fast in this business?)The Samsung model has a nice looking brushed chrome surface, a nicer and much easier to use keyboard, a bigger and brighter screen and on top of all that is three times faster.

For an extra $100, both the Acer and Samsung Chromebooks come in a version with a limited cellular connection. In plain English, that means you can be connected to the Internet for free even when you’re not in Wi-Fi range. We found that connection useful recently when we wanted to show off a new website Joy made for fans of P.G. Wodehouse stories. We were at the leader’s house, but didn’t have to ask for the Wi-Fi connection user name and password to access the Internet.

Chrome-based computers are nice because they don’t need maintenance, don’t get spyware or viruses and don’t slow down because of conflicting programs. Why is that? Because everything they work with comes from a cloud source, maintained by Google and cleared of all the bad stuff while we sleep. Computers running the Linux operating system are also pretty well protected but too techie for the general market. The Chrome computers come with a lot of helpful apps, like video chatting, games and a great set of “tips and tricks.” The latest version of Chrome OS adds support for Bluetooth and improved software for trackpads. On the downside, we had to wait a bit when printing documents through the cloud. We also needed an adapter (it was cheap) to plug the Chromebox into our old monitor.  We love having six USB ports, though.

Chromebooks or Chromeboxes are great if all you want to do is email, surf the web, play games, watch videos and edit photos — which frankly, is all most people want to do with their computer. You can not install programs like Microsoft Word or Office, but that mostly matters for business users, and doesn’t matter if you like the Google equivalent of Word or their new QuickOffice. Many apps work offline, including the popular Angry Birds and The Huffington Post. Rumor has it that the Chrome system will be merged with the Android system soon, which seems likely, and that will make hundreds of thousands of apps immediately available.


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