News UK is giving curious journalists at The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun the opportunity to file their copy on Google’s Chromebooks if they wish.
Chromebooks are laptops that aim to deliver everything a user needs through the cloud and Google’s web-based operating system, Chrome OS. The machines – so far manufactured by Samsung, Acer, Lenovo and HP – come with Google Apps preinstalled, allowing reporters to do things like create documents and edit photos without leaving their browser.
The multinational news conglomerate told Techworld that it is allowing journalists in the UK to loan Samsung 550 Chromebooks for two weeks at a time if they are interested in testing the devices
News UK (formerly News International) said that it previously ran several four-week Chromebook trials with journalists. A Chromebook feedback document shared with Techworld revealed that journalists taking part in the trials had an overwhelmingly positive experience with the devices.
The journalists that tried the devices included: The Sun’s chief showbiz reporter, Richard White; The Sun’s recently-arrested chief foreign correspondent, Nick Parker; The Sun’s deputy travel editor, Pete Bell; The Sun’s associate managing editor, Rob Hedges; and The Sun’s once-suspended reporter, Neil Syson. News UK said that journalists from The Times and The Sunday Times also used the devices.
“From a practical, professional point of view I found it very efficient and functional on the road,” said White. “It does what is paramount for us - decent battery life, quick start-up and reliable internet use making it easy to file copy.”
Parker shared the same opinion, adding: “On the whole, the Chromebook would be very useful on the road for a reporter mainly because it does all we need - the net and email very efficiently.”
The boot-up speed makes the devices ideal for meeting “on the hoof deadlines”, unlike current machines which “take 10 agonising minutes to get going”, added Parker.
White, Bell and Parker all criticised the Chromebook’s trackpad, while Bell and Hedges also weren’t happy with the keyboard.
Google Chromebooks start from £199 but manufacturers have to use lower quality materials than some of their more expensive products in order to deliver these price points.
News UK’s head of infrastructure and operations, Gareth Wright, said the company has tried various use cases.
“The hardware is extremely good value for a Chromebook and due to our use of Google Apps, they are easy to manage from an IT perspective as there aren't any 'thick applications' or a heavyweight OS to install, configure and support like with an OS X or Wintel device,” said Wright.
However, News UK still has no plans for a wider rollout at this stage because the devices rely too heavily on an internet connection.
“Their simplicity is also their biggest drawback, the offline functionality is limited and you can only run standard Wintel applications through a terminal emulation connection (e.g. Microsoft Terminal Services or Citrix),” said Wright. “Again, this is in an online mode - so if you haven't got a decent internet connection the usability of the device is somewhat limited.”
A report released earlier this week by IT analyst house Forrester said that businesses should re-evaluate Chromebooks, particularly if they use Google Apps and Gmail. However, only 28 per cent of companies said they had some interest in the devices.