Friday, May 11, 2018

Chrome OS Is Getting Linux App Support

Emil Protalinski:

As a result, Chromebooks will soon be able to run Linux apps and execute Linux commands. A preview of Linux on the Pixelbook will be released first, with support for more devices coming soon.

One of Google’s goals this year is to make it possible for developers to code on Chromebooks. Want Chrome OS to run the Linux terminal, Android Studio, Git, Sublime, Vim, or Android Studio? All of that will be possible this year.

Via Colin Cornaby:

Google just threw open the doors to Android development becoming a big thing taught in schools. No playgrounds, no restrictions, real Android Studio on Chromebooks.

Apple really needs to get back into the low end macOS notebook segment. Hoping they can build a cheap ARM laptop.

There is a huge gap (in both price and functionality) between an iPad and Apple’s current Macs. I can’t stop thinking about netbooks and the original MacBook Air. In 2008, Apple said it couldn’t make a cheap laptop that was good. So it made the MacBook Air, which was both better and much more expensive. Ten years later, I think this would be possible. Apple just doesn’t seem interested in doing it. The $899 11-inch MacBook Air was a step in the right direction, but instead of iterating and gradually bringing down the price, Apple discontinued it and replaced it with the 12-inch MacBook, which costs $1,299 and may actually be slower. There are PC laptops that cost $200 and run Windows 10. I don’t expect Apple to go that low, but they’re not even in the game.

Update (2018-05-14): See also: Are Chromebooks ready for serious development?.

21 Comments RSS · Twitter

The $329 iPad is Apple's netbook. They're not interested in selling low cost Mac hardware. Unfortunately a $200 Windows PC, in spite of the build quality, is more productive for certain customers than any iOS device.

Whoa now, the first MacBook Air was hot gargbage. Slow, expensive, and throttled like crazy. Apple didn't make an appreciably better netbook, they made a slow, expensive, entry level laptop. I'm almost 100% positive the first MBA has a 4200 RPM hard drive as a standard build....When they were hitting deep discount on the clearance racks, all the Mac heads warned me to stay clear. Just wasn't worth it. Wish I had saved the forum threads, they were damning. The wedge like model was the first good MBA.

Ps The 64GB SSD was a much better performer but something like $1000 markup and very small capacity made it questionable too.

I hear that....but $329 but a keyboard case thing and we are comfortably into regular laptop territory. About $400 out the door is a lot of money for what most people still use as consumption only device (games, videos, etc.).

I think the Chromebooks are really starting to hit the sweetspot for me. A stripped down *nix environment that now runs Android apps and Linux apps, in addition to the very well designed for regular people Chrome OS environment? Yeah, sign me up. My next laptop was going to be an off lease Dell that I wipe and run Linux on, but now I'm thinking Chromebook is the obvious upgrade path for me.

I concur that the 12" MacBook was a mistake. Even if the MacBook Air didn't get much cheaper, I think the 12" MacBook is worse in most ways (excepting screen) and costs far more as mentioned.

The MacBook Air was the perfect laptop for many. It was the Mac I recommended to dozens of people. I always thought the upgrade path was pretty simple: Retina display, shrinking the bezels. The selection of ports, the balance of performance, battery life and weight were perfect. And of course, for those in need of more oomph, there used to be a MacBook Pro with more of everything.

What do you think about the recent rumors of an improved Air/budget MacBook with retina display?

@Michael A few years back, I wrote a bit about how Apple has the ability to make affordable Macs:

When I wrote that in 2016, I had recently purchased a refurb Acer Chromebook for $180. Broadwell CPU, 15" 1080p IPS screen, 4GB RAM. A great value for the hardware involved, but I didn't have much use for it at the time... until I recently found out I could install 3rd-party firmware to run Windows 10. Because the case comes off with regular screws and the SSD is a standard M.2 slot, I got a 256GB module to swap in for under $60.

So now I'm running Win10 on it with Visual Studio, FL Studio for music-making, Sketchbook and Clip Studio for drawing (with a standard USB drawing tablet that cost under $50), and Affinity Designer for making print documents. The whole hardware setup (laptop, 256GB SSD, drawing tablet) cost me about $280. And I can always VNC into my hackintosh if I need to use a Cocoa app. As a secondary device that complements my main desktop, I get much more use out of this $280 setup than I ever did with my $1,100 iPad Pro (which, incidentally, I could only sell at a significant loss).

Now with Linux app support coming to Chrome OS, these Chromebooks can be used as-is for programming curricula in schools (and for many professional developers who don't already have an investment in Windows/Mac-only software). This is a huge deal for some of the edu projects I'm working on. Despite Apple's recent press event on education, it's hard for me to think of any reason I would consider focusing on Apple platforms for edu stuff now.

@Nathan The very first version with the SSD was pretty good, I think. Limited, but (price aside) a big improvement over the netbooks of the day. It was a wedge from the beginning.

Yeah, you have to buy extras to get that $329 iPad to even approximate the laptop form factor poorly, and you still end up with something that’s very limited due to iOS. Being able to run real Windows or Linux (though neither is my cup of tea) for such a low price is a game-changer, I think. It’s a strategic mistake for Apple to ignore that market.

@Lee these are my thoughts exactly:

> I always thought the upgrade path was pretty simple: Retina display, shrinking the bezels. The selection of ports, the balance of performance, battery life and weight were perfect.

The MacBook Air struck an amazing balance between size & power & cost. I’ve been waiting for years for a retina version, and am disappointed that the new MacBooks haven’t (yet?) evolved to be a good replacement. My only consolation is that the Airs are such well built machines that mine doesn’t feel old or slow. 5 years in and it runs like new.

Really would like a Retina display though. I hope Apple gets its Mac hardware back on track soon.

Other PC makers can make a $200 notebook because they sell them at just barely above cost. Profit margins for every PC maker other than Apple are in the low single digits. A $200 Chromebook probably costs $195 to make. Apple can't make a $200 notebook because if they lower their profit margins below 35%, their shareholders will revolt. At a bare minumum, Apple can't sell a notebook that costs $195 to make for less than $300.

The other half of the equation is that Apple doesn't make low end computers. The only Mac they make that has an I3 processor is an Imac for the education market -every other mac is either I5 or I7. They don't make any macs with celeron processors. The Macbook Air has a TN screen, but it's a very nice TN screen, worlds better than the cheap crap you'll find in computers from other companies. And so on. If they ventured into making a low end laptop for, say, $400, it would tarnish their brand image on the one hand, and it would go against their entire corporate ethos on the other hand.

@Glaurung These all seem to be arguments for Apple not making a $300 laptop. But why can’t they make something decent for even $600-700? The 11-inch MacBook Air was a solid laptop with an SSD and i5 for $899, and that was a long time ago. In 2018, they should be able to make the same thing for less, or something better for the same price. I don’t think pushing these customers away helps them or Apple in the long-term. Rather than giving them an appreciation for Apple quality, I think it reinforces the idea that Apple stuff is over-priced. Meanwhile they become part of the Windows (or Linux) ecosystems, so they’re less likely to ever buy a Mac later, or to develop for iOS, or buy apps to support the platform’s software base, or pay for Apple services. And they learn Microsoft or Google software, so even if they do buy iOS products they’re the least-sticky type of customer. Getting more people into the Apple ecosystem, at potentially lower margins, could pay off in the long run through customer loyalty and additional products that they eventually buy. And because we’re talking about Macs, not iPhones, this would be at a cost of a rounding error for Apple’s overall revenue.

@Michael Tsai,
The first models were not very wedge shaped at all, that came with the 2010 redesign.

Brooke Crothers via CNET

Also, don't forget that it's the newer MacBooks announced back in 2010 that have the most pronounced wedge design. Earlier versions of the Air had much more subtle tapering and "wedge" was not typically used to describe those 2008 and 2009 designs.

I concur. The first models had that weird pop down cover for the ports and was much more rounded in the tapering. The profiles are very different actually. Just search on the web for profile pictures of the 2008/2009 and then later models, it's easier to see the design changes from that angle.

As far as performance, the MacBook Air still tended to throttle if memory serves. I was specifically warned to stay away if I wanted to do real work. Email and such were fine, video work would cripple it. I opted for a MacBook on account of these recommendations.

Paul Miller via Engadget

We could comb over specs all we want, but what's really telling is usage scenarios. The primary problem with the original Air is that when put under strain -- especially video card-related strain -- it'd overheat to a point that it would shut down or at least severely throttle its weakling processor cores. At the start this led to completely-unacceptable stop-start freezing as the computer choked under even mild strain, but after a few firmware updates Apple got things down to just kind-of-unnacceptable -- though never managed to do as good a job of throttling and undervolting the processor as a certain 3rd party utility.

Apple definitely had some Road Apples (to borrow a Low End Mac term) over the years. Perhaps we forget how bad/compromised these designs were because the memory of the much better latter day iterations supersedes those earlier models.

I agree with Michael. When lower tier Chromebooks have non TN displays (often IPS) and decent specs all the way around for $300-$350, I think Apple can do better. $650 MacBook Air would be fantastic.

However, the reality is Apple really doesn't have to try on account of being a lifestyle company. Apple will charge high prices because aspirational consumer goods rely on brand as much as prices and technology. Not even trying to be dismissive, I think Apple is brand first, specific product second, tech third, and price is a distant fourth concern. Experience matters too, don't get me wrong, and I understand finding a balance between competing objectives. Until people vote with their wallet; honestly, as a business entity, Apple should keep the course.

I think an improved Air/MacBook combo model could do very well frankly. Fix the keyboard, add a couple more ports perhaps, and try to hit $1000 price point. I would at least start cross shopping Mac laptops again which I haven't in a few years at least.

@Nathan I simply meant that the MacBook Air was tapered from the initial version. If you don’t want to call it a wedge, that’s fine.

Your point about the original plastic MacBook (formerly iBook—I had one as a student) is a good one. That’s what we’re missing now. The 12-inch MacBook is as small and light as possible. The MacBook Pro is more expensive and higher end. The slot in the product line for less expensive and heavier, but still good and less throttled, is vacant. The way Apple has named the product lines seems to suggest that this was a deliberate change. They could have instead made the 12-inch one the new MacBook Air, which it is in spirit, and kept MacBook for the cheaper/bigger models.

I don’t think the lifestyle company thing is officially acknowledged by Apple or a good long-term strategy. You can see this happen in other industries. If you abandon the low end and the high end and just charge high prices for mid-to-upper-range stuff, the brand loses its prestige and gets squeezed from both sides.

When you’re talking long-term things like which platforms new people are learning and where innovations happen, by the time it shows up in the bottom line it may be too late. The leadership is supposed to predict these things and have a strategy, not wait until the numbers change and then react. We know that people are already (and always) voting with their wallets. It’s just not obvious exactly what’s happening because we can’t know what might have been. Those people don’t even show up in the Customer Sat because they’re no longer customers.

@Michael Tsai

On the one hand, Apple is afraid to make a cheaper notebook because they fear cannibalization of their more expensive notebooks. On the other hand, a column at Techpinions a few years back noted that most people these days are looking to buy more expensive, higher quality computers that will last a good long time -- part and parcel of the slowdown in PC sales. So Apple has tested the winds and decided the market isn't going towards lower cost machines. On the gripping hand, Apple's self conception is 180 degrees opposed to their making a lower cost computer for lower income people. They think of themselves as a maker of high end computers that are more expensive for good reason. If that means ignoring the needs of ordinary people with ordinary size paychecks, then that's what they're going to do.

It's truly a pity that there is no company interested in making good quality laptops that do not cost the world. But absent a sea change in corporate policy, I really don't think Apple is going to become that company.

Contrawise, the recent spreading in price range of the Iphone line, with the low end SE getting cheaper and cheaper while Apple raises the price on the biggest and most expensive phones to ever higher levels, may perhaps be something they are going to start doing in the Mac market as well. I sure hope so.

@Michael Tsai
I agree. I was very unsatisfied with Apple products and completely left the fold. I never voted on any satisfaction surveys, I simply don't exist according to marketers. I went from buying Macs, Airports, iPods, some iOS devices, Apple TVs and even hacking x86 PCs to run Mac OS X (so I could continue using all those great Mac OS X apps I had grown accustomed to over the years) to having nothing related to Apple at all....Man, I even owned Apple stock for a while. Wrote some articles for small independent Mac websites too. If not all in, I certainly had my preferences, and Apple was a big part of almost 20 years of computing.

In a larger sense, I just don't understand the market for anything anymore. Cheap phones are really good these days, even if you only keep them for a year or two, it's still cheaper than the average smartphone consumer getting $700+ phones every two years (this is not just an Apple complaint). Likewise, mainstream computers have long since reached good enough for regular people. Windows 10 is a dream compared to the "everyone is an admin by default" days of Windows XP. Chromebooks are also pretty darn good and clearly getting better, hence this discussion. When it comes to tablets, shoot, the Fire HD 10 I just bought for $79.99 before tax in pretty amazing (yeah, yeah, I sideloaded GAPPS to give me all my Google apps in addition to my Amazon library....). My $50 Asus RT-AC68U routers (flashed CellSpots) might be the best bang for the buck devices on the market right now. Guess good enough is sexy in its own practical way. The idea that I could outfit my immediate family with three really good tablets for the price of one iPad is very compelling. Three phones for a third of one iPhone (or other flagship), etc. Just getting older I guess. Priorities shifting and all.

I agree as well regarding the idea of a competent base level laptop as entry into the Mac world being a very compelling strategy. So would a Mac mini that wasn't stuck in semi abandonment, professional laptops with better keyboards, modular professional towers, etc. However, since Apple is making more money with iPhones than every other line of products combined, these consumers primarily being brand conscious (aka not techies), and relatively low maintenance (as opposed to us grouchy greybeard techies), the winds have clearly shifted. Sure, I would do many things differently if I were Apple, while still keeping all the flagship devices rolling mind you (excepting the ridiculous $10K Apple Watches), probably even kept iterating networking devices too, but I see the benefits of knowing where your bread is buttered.

I think it's short sited to chase trends and not remember your core audience but mass appeal is lucrative indeed.

Ps Buying Beats was a brand lifestyle move, let's not kid ourselves. Same with $10K smart watches.

@Glaurung I think you are right that that’s Apple’s thinking. Maybe “We can’t make a good computer for that price” was always a line and not the real reason.

@Glaurung @Michael Back when Jobs said “We don’t know how to make a $500 computer that’s not a piece of junk”, I think that was indeed the case. But today, Apple has no excuse, because they're already making a $199 Mac mini in the form of the Apple TV. Swap out the Siri Remote for more storage, sell it at higher markup for $249 (if you must) and you're good to go. Add a built-in/non-retina IPS screen + mouse/keyboard and you have a new eMac for $349. Add a battery and you have an edu MacBook for $399. If aluminum is too expensive, use the iPhone 5c plastic (which I'd prefer anyway). I think the point many folks are trying to make is that it is *easily possible* for Apple to make affordable Macs (at least for schools, if not everyone), but they seem to be making a deliberate choice not to, and that's only going to contribute to the irrelevance of Apple platforms over time.

As for people wanting to 'pay more for a better computer', my family indeed chose a MacBook in 2007 because it was much better than the cheap PC laptops at the time. However, a crucial part of that equation was the fact that we could upgrade that MacBook over time (adding RAM and eventually replacing the hard drive with an SSD). Upgradability was the only reason that MacBook was usable for 8 years. Now that MacBooks are sealed, the Apple pitch seems to be trending toward "pay more for something you won't be able to use as long as a PC you can upgrade/repair". I guess Apple can make a business case of 'long-lasting/upgradable products hurt the bottom line', but if it gets to the point where customers start taking their money elsewhere, that strategy seems self-defeating.

I think it's the disingenuousness that bothers me the most. If Apple wants to be a 'lifestyle brand', they should admit it and stop saying how much they 'care about' the Mac, education, etc, and then doing next to nothing to support those statements. And — as I've said before — if Apple leadership genuinely believes that what they're currently doing represents caring about the Mac and education, then things are only going to get worse.


I think the point many folks are trying to make is that it is *easily possible* for Apple to make affordable Macs (at least for schools, if not everyone), but they seem to be making a deliberate choice not to, and that's only going to contribute to the irrelevance of Apple platforms over time.

Upgradability was the only reason that MacBook was usable for 8 years. Now that MacBooks are sealed, the Apple pitch seems to be trending toward "pay more for something you won't be able to use as long as a PC you can upgrade/repair".

I think it's the disingenuousness that bothers me the most.

These are all great points.

[…] This sounds kind of like the xMac, which could be a good thing. I’m not sure that a low-cost modular Mac remains an important niche. But I do hope the new MacBook is priced a lot lower. […]

[…] Previously: Everything You Knew About Chromebooks Is Wrong, Chrome OS Is Getting Linux App Support. […]

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