Chromebook Trash

One interesting part of the 2020 COVID lockdowns was the frenzy of school districts to procure computers to facilitate remote learning for all students. There were months-long waits for Chromebooks specifically because these low-cost machines worked with a school's budget and integrate well with Google Classroom. But due to a literal Expiration Date, hundreds of thousands of Chromebooks will become e-waste. How is this possible? Monica Chin at The Verge explains.

Chromebook Churn also discusses the Chromebook’s auto-update expiration date — something users have been complaining about for years

While Google currently guarantees eight years of automatic updates to Chromebooks, that period officially begins when Google certifies a Chromebook — not when a school actually gets that Chromebook in hand, which is a process that can take much longer. By the time a school has successfully purchased, received, set up, and deployed a fleet of student Chromebooks, it’s common for expiration to be “four to five years away,” the report found. 

“When the software expires just a few years into a device’s use, schools are left with boxes of computers with working components that end up as electronic waste, and the need to buy even more Chromebooks,” the paper warns. 

Those short expiration dates also make it more difficult for schools to resell their devices, meaning that some have to pay even more to recycle them.

The Verge

The fact that working, physically capable hardware is rendered inert is everything wrong with modern computing. Products are built with reliance on the cloud. A company goes out of business and their hardware stops working. ChromeOS literally having a date in which it cannot update any further is absurd. If a computer's hardware can still function, even in a beaten-down state due to daily use in schools, there is zero reason essential-only OS updates could not come to that machine.

Making things even harder is the lack of repairability on current machines. Chin's reporting also goes over how manufacturers make tiny internal changes to parts so screens, keyboards, and other components cannot be easily swapped between models of identical-on-the-outside Chromebooks. Again, not a good look for these companies.

The entire value proposition of a Chromebook is to get a thin-client machine that runs what is essentially a web browser as its operating system. By being a web-first device, it self-updates, self-heals, and in theory, lasts as long as the user needs it because the web is generally lightweight.

All that value for a piece of hardware that costs somewhere around $300, give or take. Factor in limited school budgets to buy them and staff people to repair them, and now it's a recurring cost to replace them all the time for no reason other than "Google designed it this way."

Yes, I may be biased toward Apple, but if you consider an education-priced MacBook Air at $900, it may be 3x more expensive than a Chromebook. However, over the course of a K-12 education, a student's machine will need to be replaced anywhere from 3-5 times depending on the state of the current machine's lifecycle. All because of a simple kill switch, a near-thousand-dollar laptop becomes a better economical choice for a school over a $300 laptop. Oh, and we're not dumping more e-waste into the world either.

Simply pathetic on Google's part.

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