Is your computer a thing of beauty or a disposable tool?

This week Google unveiled in more detail its new ChromeOS operating system, specifically showing off some of the machines that will run it. As an OS which is essentially little more than a browser, it very much revolves around storing information in the cloud.

To demonstrate this they released a promo video in which a user’s information is repeatedly saved from destruction by virue of the fact that it resides ‘in the cloud’. What is not saved, however, is a plethora of laptops that are destroyed in increasingly violent and extreme methods.

When Gina Trapani linked to this video recently she made the comparison between Google’s vision of disposable computers, and Apples slavish devotion to making beautiful machines. Although Google, in fairness, were trying to make an entertaining point about cloud computing, rather than a philosophical statement about the disposable nature of computers, it still seems to revel in this idea of the machines themselves being secondary. Trapani’s comparison with Apple is very much true.

One thing Apple-bashers often shout about is how Apple computers are some kind of ‘style-over-substance’ devices. That they are just ‘pretty’ boxes, but nothing more. Well, you know what? Aesthetics are important.

Humanity is drawn to create and be surrounded by beautiful objects. It may be an evolutionary trait. Simply utilitarian design is not enough; look at the blight on the landscape left behind by the brutally utilitarian buildings of the 60s and 70s. It amazes me when I go into PC World and look at the Windows laptops on sale. Many of them are ugly, plastic, cheap looking things, with a horrible build and tactile feel. This is beyond meer visual aesthetics; if you are to use a machine well, it should feel good to the touch. Many of these machines look and feel terrible.

This also goes beyond aesthetic sensitivities. Evidence has shown that aesthetically pleasing interfaces are more usable. Indeed, more obviously, using a cheap, plasticy keyboard can be frustrating and limiting.

This is to say nothing of Macs OS X operating system, which is where these debates usually rest. If, for whatever reason, I was to find myself wanting to use another OS, I would have to look far and wide to find a machine that physically matches the Apple Mac, certainly in the laptop department.

Google seem to want a world where the physical machine is secondary. I think this is a mistake. The things we use matter.

P.S. Engadget say these ChromeOS machines have no USB support. Isn’t that the thing that makes the iPad so horrible and unusable? đŸ˜‰