A $2 billion bond act will be on the ballot for New York voters to consider Nov. 4. This one is supposed to pay for technology improvements to New York classrooms.
I normally vote against bond issues. New York has a massive state budget and it should be able to pay most of its capital and operating expenses from recurring tax revenues. The state also holds a lot of debt. Besides, I always ask myself in the voting booth, how much of this bond money will really go to its intended purpose and how much is getting siphoned off into that ignominious “administrative overhead” category?
But a story by David McKay Wilson in The Journal News on Friday stopped me in my tracks. Wilson included my magic word in his piece, the name of a product I haven’t stopped yammering about for three years, making me the object of considerable ridicule by friends and family. The word is Chromebook, an inexpensive laptop computer that has literally changed my life. This bond act would put thousands more of them in the hands of low-income students.
I realize I’m shamelessly shilling for a company everyone loves to hate. But be assured I own no Google stock, I’m not looking for a job at Google, and I even poked fun at its chief executive, Eric Schmidt, in my last column. But one thing Google has done extraordinarily well is build an inexpensive device and operating system that is ideal for long-term institutional use. If Apple or Microsoft can come up with a device and operating system to match it, I’d be happy to shill for them as well.
A Chromebook, for those unfamiliar with the brand, is a laptop typically priced at $200 to $300. About a dozen computer manufacturers are now making them. Chromebooks were near universally laughed at when they were introduced in 2011 because they consist of little more than the Chrome web browser. A Chromebook has no other internal software. It is a link to the Internet and to Google’s suite of office products. It requires an Internet connection for most of its applications.
I’ve found that a Chromebook lets me do 99.9 percent of what I would do on a traditional laptop, plus it organizes my life in the cloud. I can sign into a Google browser anywhere on Earth, and my digital world is all there, exactly as I left it, down to the last comma I typed. I’ve used no other computer for the past three years, and I spend at least 10 hours a day at a keyboard.
But here’s the more important thing, and the reason why I fancy Chromebooks so much for schools and libraries: They don’t get old. They get better and faster the longer you own them (up until what point I’ve yet to find out). Traditional laptops start becoming obsolete the moment they ship. Their hard drives slow down and their software gets dated. Chromebooks, on the other hand, are constantly being updated by Google because the operating system is in the cloud. In other words, the Chromebook I purchased in 2011 runs faster and has more capabilities today than on the day I bought it. Chromebooks need no virus software because they don’t get viruses, and their solid state hard drives make them stand up to drops and abuse, something ideal for school environments.
A decade ago, a group of philanthropists tried to design a laptop for under $100 with the goal of giving one to every child in Africa. It was a wonderfully generous, but ludicrous idea. Many of these children had no electricity, much less phone lines or Wi-Fi. Even if those were in place, by the time the laptops would have been distributed, most of their software would have needed upgrading. Chromebooks never need software upgrades, again, because they have no software. They stay current throughout their life cycle.
I haven’t decided what I’ll do about the $2 billion bond act. I need to look into it more as a voter. But getting laptops into the hands of New York kids, and getting them to create digital lives for themselves at very little cost, can only be a good thing, whether it’s paid for through a bond or through recurring revenues.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant who is working on the Rob Astorino campaign for governor.