I have never seen a comparison of the Microsoft Surface RT and the Google Chromebook. This is probably because consumers do not perceive any similarities between both devices. But these two computing devices do have their similarities that are worth exploring.
Both computers are built off of hybrid mobile operating systems, which is to say that these operating systems employ the best of what consumers take for granted on mobile operating systems, in a “desktop” or “laptop” form. The Surface RT is built off of Windows RT, which is a mobile operating system designed for tablets, laptops, and hybrids, not to be confused with Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8, though it clearly shares the same look and feel of both and uses some of the same cloud technologies, such as SkyDrive. The Google Chromebook is built off of Chrome OS, a proprietary mobile operating system that shares applications with the Chrome Store, which allows individuals to run mobile applications on their desktop within the Google Chrome browser. I know, it all sounds very confusing.
The first thing a consumer needs to concern themselves with is the fact that neither of these devices access applications in the traditional sense. Applications are designed to run on the cloud and do not necessarily need to be installed to the drive of the computer to run. There is no compatibility between traditional desktop applications, and in the case of Google Chromebook, no compatibility with Android, another mobile operating system also designed to run on tablets, smartphones, and hybrids. This is where it gets even more interesting; Android applications actually do install themselves into the kernel of the device they are running, where with the Google Chromebook, those applications are not installed onto the device.
The first criticism consumers will hear of both platforms is that Surface RT is not Windows 8 and the Chromebook runs apps within a web browser. Google Chrome OS is more of an extension of the functionality of Google Chrome, but this does not mean that it is incapable of doing what a traditional operating system does. People are quick to forget experiments that Microsoft performed in the past with the Active Desktop on Windows ME in which they were essentially attempting to blur the lines between the operating system and the web browser. Google Chromebook could be perceived as a newer, more successful, “Linux like” continuation of that work, from like 15 years ago, that actually works.
Consumers have to divorce themselves of their preconceived notions of what a computer does to appreciate either device. Surface RT does come installed with a Home and Student version of Office 2013, and Google Chromebook can access Google Docs, and other productivity suites, that are not as slick as Microsoft Office, but can do anything that Office is capable of doing. Both devices come with a solid state drive, and you can expand the capabilities of both through removable USB drives. Both devices install software through a web store where you have access to a large repository of software. In the case of Google Chromebook, that same software can also be accessed on the desktop of any computer, running any operating system, through Google Chrome. In the case of Surface RT, only devices running Windows RT that meet a threshold of technical specifications can access the Windows Store.
The Surface RT is part of an ecosystem that is more exclusive than anything Google Chromebook offers, and this allows Microsoft to offer the devices at a higher premium than what you’ll pay for a Google Chromebook, but is the premium worth the price? For $349 you can purchase a Surface RT with 2 GB of RAM, 1366 by 768 pixel 10.9 inch display, two HD 720p cameras, two microphones, and 32 GB of storage (more like 15 when you consider the memory requirements of Windows RT). For $199 you can purchase an Acer Google Chromebook with 16 GB of storage, 2 GB of RAM, and an 11.6 inch display. Microsoft charges extra for the keyboard that connects to the Surface RT, or, consumers can connect a USB keyboard to the device. Google Chromebook is only available in laptop form, so it is not a tablet computer at all but a laptop computer running a hybrid operating system.
While it is possible that Windows RT is made available on the desktop, and Chrome OS may be made available on smartphones and tablets I would not hold my breath. Leaving the operating systems the way they are ensures that only developers are able to work at delivering applications that make the devices these machines easier to use. Both operating systems are designed for the cloud; SkyDrive, which can be accessed on any computer running any operating system through a web browser, is baked into Windows RT, and Google Drive, again, accessible anywhere you have Internet, is baked into Google Chrome OS. I cannot say that one is any better than the other, although, SkyDrive does offer remote access to other computers in your ecosystem. Currently I have 25 GB of storage through SkyDrive, and only 15 through Google Drive.
If you decide to take either of these computers on, I would download my documents from SkyDrive and Google Drive onto an actual computer when the opportunity presents itself; I would never totally rely on the cloud to the point where I have no actual copy sitting on a drive somewhere I can access without the Internet. Google is also throwing in additional storage to purchasers of a Google Chromebook that they can access for three years, before having to decide if they want to renew such storage or not. This can range anywhere from 1 TB of storage, on the Chromebook Pixel, to 100 GB on a low end Chromebook ; not a bad idea if you are truly invested in the cloud and like the idea of accessing your documents anywhere. Perhaps, to make amends for the limited version of Office on the Surface RT, Microsoft offers a one month trial of Office 365; a beefier cloud productivity suite than what is available through SkyDrive that consumers pay $9.99 a month for.
This is new territory, and it is understandable why consumers would prefer to opt for Windows, Mac, or Linux based laptops in place of these two new hybrid computers, running hybrid operating systems. But this may be the future of computing for most of us, and the device that is easiest to reach for when our current computers crash. Mobile computing is not what it used to be; depending on how you look at it, laptop computing is not what it used it to be either.