If you're ever in Palo Alto and happen to need a disposable laptop, look no further than the local library. Starting in January, the Palo Alto Public Library will begin loaning out Chromebooks for up to a whole week, Wired reports.
The library has been lending out laptops to library patrons for years now, but until now they were only available for two hours at a time, and then only inside the library. A few months ago, though, Google contacted the library and asked them if they'd be interested in lending out Chromebooks as well. After testing out the devices for a month, the library has decided to start offering them for one-week loans, starting in January.
That's all well and good for library patrons, but what's in it for Google? Libraries offer a unique opportunity for Google to test their devices and get feedback from a wide range of users, and Chromebooks are particularly suited to the task, since they store all of their data in the cloud. This means that the library's IT staff doesn't have any headaches when it comes to protecting users' information. And since the Chrome OS is essentially just a stand-alone browser, there's no need for them to have to worry about viruses or updates.
On the other hand, Chromebooks are also lacking in many functionalities of a traditional PC. Although they have access to Google Apps, which offers many of the same features of Microsoft Office but runs in a browser, they don't have the ability to access physical media or to store information locally. This might not be a problem for many people, who just want to check their friends status on Facebook or to watch a quick video on YouTube. For others, Chromebooks wont' be replacing traditional PCs any time soon; but that isn't stopping Google from trying.
Palo Alto isn't the first library to offer Chromebooks to its patrons. Back in September, NJ.com reported that the Hillsborough, New Jersey Library was offering Chromebooks to patrons for up to four hours. Palo Alto is one of the first, however, to let patrons actually take a Chromebook home with them.
Since a lot of people don't use library PCs for many tasks much more intensive than web browsing, Chromebooks might do just fine for them. If it helps increasingly troubled libraries to save a few bucks and focus on what really matters, then we're all for it. Just try not to think about what the guy who had the Chromebook before you did with it.
Image courtesy of Wired (Jessica Goodman)