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When netbooks came to the market in late 2007, users criticized their lower processing power, truncated keyboards and lack of software choices. But they’re making a comeback in sleeker, simplified formats.

That’s thanks to Google’s Chrome operating system, which has been preloaded onto small notebook computers offered by companies like Samsung and Acer. These Chromebooks thrive with lower processing power and boast at least 4.25 hours of battery life (with some models going up to 9 hours).

Here are more reasons to love these machines.

What they are

Chromebooks are portable machines designed for two uses: accessing the Internet and creating text and spreadsheet documents. Compared to tablets, they weigh only slightly more and have bigger screens.

They also have fully functional (and often full-sized) keyboards. Plus, they’re affordable: I bought an Acer Chromebook with a 300GB hard drive for less than $200.

What they aren’t

They’re not exactly like full laptops. They can’t run most conventional software, including Microsoft Office. Instead, users access document-creation apps via the Chrome browser and Google Drive (formerly Google Docs). These documents can later be downloaded or sent as conventional Office docs (see “Miss Microsoft Office?,” below).

Most do not have large hard drives for storing files—many laptops start at 500GB, while some Chromebooks only have 16GB. That’s because you’re supposed to store documents in the cloud via Google Drive. Fortunately, my lifetime’s worth of documents, spreadsheets and PDFs take up less than 1GB.

All Chromebooks function best when connected to the Internet, leading some to dismiss them as online-only gadgets. But you can still create documents, compose emails, play music and view photos while offline.

Why it’ll help your practice

With widespread wi-fi now common and more back-office services running through browsers, Chromebooks can easily function as main computers for small offices or solo advisors. They’re simple to use, update themselves automatically, aren’t susceptible to viruses, and come with a built-in network (Google Drive) that lets you operate without the hassle of a server.

My spouse—the unknowing test subject for all my tech articles—loves our Chromebook. She’s self-employed and often collaborates with others on projects via email. She’s been using Google Apps for two years for her own corporate-branded website and email.

When I asked her to use the Chromebook, I didn’t tell her what it was; only that it didn’t have Office on it. It took her more than a month to notice a difference between it and her old Windows 7 laptop. During that month, she surfed the web, made appointments, did bookkeeping and traded emails and documents with colleagues—all while raving about how the Chromebook was handier and more useful than her laptop and iPad.

Tech thought

Miss Microsoft Office?

There are free, online-only versions of Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint that have almost all the capabilities of the desktop edition.

Kevin Cork, CFP, is President of TheAbsoluteGroup.com and a best-selling author.

Originally published in Advisor's Edge

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