If you find yourself in Silicon Valley and you need a laptop, try the library. In a first-of-its-kind pilot project, the Palo Alto, California Library will soon be loaning Google Chromebook computers to library patrons for as long as one week at a time.
The program highlights the Chromebook’s ability to operate as a kind of “disposable computer,” as Google puts it. With the Chromebook, most all data and applications reside on the Web — not the local machine — so it can easily be passed from person-to-person. It’s a very Googly setup, and the search giant hopes it will reinvent the way businesses use computers.
The Palo Alto library has lent out laptops to library patrons for years now, but only for two-hour windows. It has never let them out of the library. But a few months ago, Google got in touch with the library and asked if they’d like to start lending out Chromebooks as well. After testing 21 of the Google devices for a month, the library has decided to make them available for one-week loans, starting in January.
Google introduced the Chromebook a year ago, and it has been struggling since then to elevate them out of the curiosity category. It’s light, the battery lasts a long time, it boots up in seconds, and it’s great for surfing the Web. But try to install Microsoft Office or slip in a DVD, and you’ve got another thing coming. Google is trying to rebuild computing in its own image.
“We’re not selling a device, we’re selling this new paradigm of web-based computing,” Google’s Rajen Sheth said last at a conference in San Francisco. “You can do everything in the browser. The browser itself can actually be your desktop.”
Sheth is the executive credited with turning Google Apps into a winner, and now, he runs Google’s effort to push the Chromebook into the enterprise. He called it the “next step of the cloud evolution.”
One of the things that Google likes about the Chromebook is the “shareability of the product,” Sheth said. Because the Chromebook stores everything on the Web, you don’t need really need to own the laptop that you use. Just log in with a Google password to any Chromebook, and you get access to all the Web-based apps that you’ve set up.
Sheth himeself doesn’t lug a laptop between home and work anymore. “I know when I log into my Chromebook at home, it’s the same as when I log into my Chromebook at work,” he said.
So Google is piloting the Chromebook in a few places where people can test out this “shareability,” and Google can get some user feedback. If you’re flying Virgin America, you might get offered a loaner for the duration of your flight. In September, New Jersey’s Hillsborough Library started lending them out for four-hour windows.
The Multnomah County Library recently bought 10 Chromebooks for test-driving purposes. “We’re currently testing them at five of the six libraries that currently have loaner laptops — mostly by asking staff to play with them,” says Jeremy Graybill, a spokesman for the Portland, Oregon, library. “Some branches have relationships with specific patrons that allows them to put the Chromebooks in patron hands for supervised evaluation.
For the past month, Chromebooks have been available alongside Windows laptops for two-hour loans at the Palo Alto Library.
A lot of library users like to run Microsoft Office apps on their loaner laptops, but often they’ve struggled to get their heads wrapped around the Google’s Web-centric way of creating and sharing documents.
Right now, the Windows-based laptops are still more popular. Senior Librarian Jessica Goodman thinks that this is because patrons are simply more familiar with Windows and its word processing apps. “People would try it and say, ‘That was pretty cool. I wish I could do word processing with that,” she says of the Chromebooks.
With next month’s week-long rental program, patrons get more time to figure out how to use the devices, Goodman says. “We thought if we made them available to check out that would spark a little bit of interest.”
The Palo Alto Library is still working out how to get the Chromebooks to print on their customized pay-to-print printer system.