Personal Computers

Google Rolls Out DIY Chromebook Repair Program for Schools

Asus Chromebook

Google has launched a new Chromebook repair program designed to help students and school systems get their broken laptops up and running again.

On the website supporting the program, schools can find which Chromebooks have commonly repaired components, like the keyboard, display and palm rest.

In addition, there are online manufacturer guides that show how to repair the devices, find tools to safely fix them, get replacement parts, find training and get system update access if needed.

John Solomon, Google’s vice president for Chrome OS, explained the rationale behind the new program in a company blog. “Many Chromebooks have been repairable for years, with some repairs already covered under system warranties and managed by authorized service providers,” he wrote. “But it’s been challenging for school IT administrators to find information about which devices they can repair.”

With its repair program, Google joins the ranks of Chromebook makers who have launched their own training initiatives to assist schools in performing repairs. Some schools are even offering elective courses in Chromebook repair, Solomon noted.

“In-school programs like these are not only eco-friendly, they can significantly reduce turnaround time, save on costs and help students learn valuable skills,” he added.

Unusual Move

Google and its Chromebook’s partners’ support of do-it-yourself repairs is a bit of a departure from the practices of some makers of consumer electronics.

“Google’s effort is certainly unusual, especially compared to smartphone vendors,” observed Charles King, the principal analyst with Pund-IT, a technology advisory firm in Hayward, Calif.

“It’s also somewhat ironic when you consider how commonplace it is for users, especially gamers, to build, customize and maintain their own systems,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Electronics makers typically frown on do-it-yourselfers because they can cause more problems than they solve, added Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst at the Enderle Group, an advisory services firm in Bend, Ore.

“Google’s approach attempts to train the folks who will do the work, but I expect they’ll find the results very uneven,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Some folks are good at this, others not so much.”

Throwback Approach

Google’s program is a bit of a throwback to the old days of computing, noted Ross Rubin, the principal analyst with Reticle Research, a consumer technology advisory firm in New York City.

“In the early days of the PC, it was very easy to swap out components,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Then as laptops became thinner, there was more of a focus on tight integration that came at the expense of repairability.”

However, PC makers are starting to pay more attention to repairs and upgrades, he added.

“Now we have products such as the Framework laptop which allows every component to be easily replaced or upgraded, and Dell has shown off a concept device in the same vein,” Rubin noted.

“If you were to look at these devices without knowing it, they look like any other laptop.”

“It’s not just about repairability but upgradability, which also contributes to a longer life for the device,” he added.

Demystifying Computers

The program can be beneficial to Google, the participating schools and the computer makers.

“It is cost-based and targeted at schools that don’t have much money,” Enderle said.

“You can probably train students to do the repairs, and the skills will be useful so you could make it part of the curriculum,” he added.

“This program has a better chance of working in schools than it does in business,” he continued, “because it can contribute to the kids’ education and provide a lower-cost alternative to the school.”

While the program is aimed at doing minor repairs, it’s still providing kids with some useful skills, maintained Bob O’Donnell, founder and chief analyst at Technalysis Research, a technology market research and consulting firm in Foster City, Calif.

“It’s great for kids to demystify how their PCs work,” he observed. “It’s a cool idea.”

“It will be interesting to see how effective it is because it does void the warranty of the Chromebook, and there are issues around that,” he mused.

Repair Law in Works

O’Donnell also noted that tools could be a problem for would-be computer repairers. “If special tools are needed to do a repair, it could be an exercise in frustration,” he said. “Oftentimes, in the past, vendors have chosen to require tools that the average person doesn’t have to discourage them from making repairs.”

On the other hand, he added, “The program keeps Acer and Lenovo from having to do the repairs themselves,” he added.

The program might also put the company in a more positive light in the eyes of government watchdogs. “The program separates Google from numerous competitors which should also help buffer the company against ‘right to repair’ legislation and regulations,” King maintained.

Such legislation was filed in the U.S. House of Representatives last week by Representatives Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., and Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y. According to the representatives, the proposed law would address an abuse of copyright law used to deny people the right to repair their own devices or take them to locally-owned repair shops.

“Some large corporations have been taking advantage of American consumers with unduly burdensome repair restrictions,” Spartz said in a news release. “It’s time to level the playing field for small businesses, mechanics, farmers, and consumers.”

“We have to strike the right balance,” she continued. “When Americans purchase a product, it should never be assumed that they also agree to the manufacturer performing all the maintenance of the product, regardless of cost.”

Greedy Companies

King noted that a number of high profile cases involving repairs have emerged lately, including John Deere’s stance against farmers repairing the Deere equipment they own.

“That has sparked outrage among farmers — an important voting group for both Democrats and Republicans — and also cast light on similar but less known anti-repair programs,” he said.

“By being too greedy and heavy-handed, companies that support anti-repair policies have put themselves under a microscope,” he added. “With a bit of luck, that could deliver positive results for consumers and pro-repair groups.”

As for anyone contemplating cracking open a PC to make repairs, Enderle offers this advice: “It’s not for the faint of heart, but it depends on what needs to be repaired and how easy the vendor made the process. In the long run, it is generally cheaper to have an expert do it because they’ll be properly grounded, have the right working environment — static electricity-free — and have learned on someone else’s PC.”

John P. Mello Jr.

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.

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