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Aral Balkan:

Over the holidays, I found a Chromebook that Samsung had given me to evaluate about six years ago and which had been gathering dust ever since. Coincidentally, Laura’s sister Annie had just told me that she needed a laptop. Hmm…

Now, you would think given how people just love to harp on about how damn open Google is, that this would be easy to do. Just install a lightweight Linux distribution and be done with it, right?

Oh, you poor, naïve, dear. No, not even close.

Instead, what you have to do is to physically open up the computer, short a pair of jumpers to disable the write protection and flash the firmware with something that isn’t designed to stop you from protecting yourself from Google’s surveillance machine.

Google is anything but open and Chromebooks are not computers; they are corporate surveillance devices. A Chromebook is an inexpensive data milking device and you are the cow.

It’s no coincidence, for example, that they have tiny hard drives. Why do you need local storage when you can just put all your data on Google’s machines and use Google’s services for everything? And what if you decide to foil Google’s cunning plan and install a larger hard drive? Computer says, “no!” You can’t. Why? Because “security”, of course. Wink, wink!

Similarly, you cannot install a different operating system. And if you have the gall to try and dual boot, you are greeted with a nag screen on every boot. Why? Because “security”, of course. Nudge, nudge!

Giving the owner of a computer control over who can and cannot update the hardware or operating system is a valid security concern. Giving the manufacturer such control and making it as difficult as possible for the owner isn’t.

This experience should be improved with certain Chromebooks, and in the future, it may get better for more models, but the supposition that a Chromebook is not a freedom-respecting device is sound. This situation is even worse on iOS, where the ability to modify the hardware, use alternate operating systems, or install software that Apple has not approved is not an option.

With Android, Google has managed to subvert the positive connotations of open and open source by wrapping their offering with proprietary code and by creating the most absurdly invasive operating system ever known (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

To call these devices computers is an insult to computers.

iOS devices, Chromebooks, and Android devices are the closet thing I have seen to corporate will made manifest and omnipresent in end users’ lives. People need alternative hardware/software solutions that respect and empower them.

People deserve better than this duopoly.

Paul Ciano

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