Google promises less frustrating Chromebooks

Google's Chromebooks, web-centric ultraportables intended to drive adoption of cloud-computing, are set to get faster, the company has confirmed, as it makes a second try at the notebook market. "We are really looking forward to the next generation of Chromebooks" Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Chrome, told CNET, "we will improve on the dimensions of speed, simplicity, and security." It's speed that has been one of the primary complaints, Google concedes, and it's there that the search giant has focused its efforts for the new generation.

Unlike Windows or OS X notebooks, Chromebooks run Google's own Chrome OS, a platform that basically loads into a browser and offers a window to web-based services. Although Chromebooks use the same computer hardware as regular notebooks, little in the way of apps or data is stored locally: instead, your files are kept on Google's servers, as are any apps – like word processing software and games – you might want to use.

The idea, Google says, is turning computers into appliances, straightforward to use and with little in the way of malware threats. In theory, a Chrome OS user could log into any Chromebook with their Google credentials and be up and running with the platform – and they preferred settings together with access to all their files – within seconds. Google is positioning it as ideal for students, families and the tech-phobic.

Unfortunately, as we discovered in our own review of one of the first-gen Chromebooks, the user-experience can be more frustrating than functional. The dependence on the cloud means a fast internet connection is vital, and the performance of the Intel Atom-based hardware left plenty to be desired as well. Limitations of cloud apps also became clear, when we attempted to do all but the most basic of tasks.

Google's challenge is not only speeding up its cloud apps but the hardware its Chromebooks use. That might involve – like the switch Google TV made early this year - ditching Intel and instead adopting frugal ARM processors, something which might also boost battery life and allow for cheaper machines altogether. There's no word on when we can expect second-gen Chromebooks, but Google I/O 2012 in late June seems a good guess.