I noticed that Acer introduced a sub-$200 Chromebook. Now that may not mean much (or anything) to you, especially if the term "Chromebook" has no meaning for you but this is a significant event in the world of computer devices. The device (which has yet to be delivered) is the Acer C720 Chromebook with an 11.6- inch Anti-glare screen, with an Intel Celeron 2955U 1.4 GHz (Haswell micro-architecture), 2 GB DDR3L SDRAM, and a 16 GB Solid-State Drive.
If you think of this computer as a smartphone with a large screen and a keyboard, you might not be far off. However, this is a real computer (cheap but real). The key here is that a Chromebook uses the Chrome operating system from Google which means that it can only run software when it is connected to the Internet. If you disconnect this computer from the Internet, you have fairly poor hand-held 11.6-inch mirror.
Are we back to the point at which I ask what this has to do with genealogy? Well, yes, actually. This super cheap computer is a harbinger. If you are a member of that extremely small minority of the U.S. population still waiting to get online, you may also find yourself off line without a computer that works. There used to be an option; do I go online or not? Now the option is moving towards do I do computers or not because going online is assumed.
In the title to this post I mention iPads, iPhones, Android devices, Kindles and allude to other devices (such as the Chromebook). Guess what none of these devices really operate without some kind of Internet connection at some point. That is not to say that you cannot operate your tablet or smartphone offline, but if you do not have some sort of Internet connection, you aren't going to have anything to do off-line except look at the standard pre-loaded apps.
What am I saying? I am saying that the entire software industry is going to online distribution of their products. In the case of the Chromebook, the software isn't "distributed" all, the computer simply won't work offline with very few exceptions. So what do all of these devices have in common? An absolute dependency on network connections. The days of the standalone computer are dead and gone.
Another example occurred to me recently. Adobe, the developers of Photoshop and many other programs, only sells its software in the Creative Cloud. This means that if you want to buy an Adobe product, you can no longer go to the store and purchase a "box" containing a disk of some sort and a manual. Gone. Finished. No longer available at all. To buy the products from Adobe, you either buy one product at a time or the entire Creative Cloud. But when you "buy" the product, you pay a monthly fee not a purchase price. In essence, you are renting the product. Today, if I wanted to buy Photoshop, it would cost $19.99 a month on an annual contract. However, I can get the entire Creative Cloud, including most of the consumer versions of Adobe products, for $49.99 a month. So, if I use two or more Adobe products, I rent the whole package, like it or not.
In the "old days" (two years ago), I could go to a store and buy a copy of Photoshop in a lovely box. I could take the product home, load it onto my computer and use it until the cows came home (or my computer died) whichever was first. Those days are gone. In fact, all of those days are gone. It is my guess (prediction) that boxes or disks of software are going to disappear at some point. You will either use the Internet to obtain software or you will not obtain software. If you were a software developer which would you rather do; sell someone a downloadable file that cost you nothing or sell them a box that cost you $5 for exactly the same price.
How does this affect us as genealogists? If you can't see what is going on, you are very, very shortly going to be out of luck. We still have a very significant percentage of the genealogical community that is paper based and refuses, for whatever reason, to go online or become computer literate. Every day that passes puts this segment of our community further out of the loop. What will happen when every major repository of records decides to do what Adobe has already done, that is, make their records available "online" and no other way. Do you realize that FamilySearch.org retires from circulation every roll of microfilm as it is digitized and made available online? Do you realize that libraries are removing books from their shelves as the books are digitized and made available online? Now do you see why the Chromebook is a harbinger?