I can describe Google Chrome OS in one word.
It’s the type of minimalism that conjures thoughts of Apple — where less is more, and a refined user experience trumps endless options.
In Chrome OS, you live in the browser. As far as the graphic user interface (GUI) goes, the browser is the operating system, and the operating system is the browser.
For those who are used to using a modern OS and GUI (i.e. Windows, Mac, GNOME, KDE), it doesn’t take long before you start to feel trapped. There’s no independent file system browser, menu bar, or additional application windows. Gone is the ability to minimize a window, click on the Start menu (Windows OS), or show application windows side-by-side. Instead you are in the browser, always. If you want to do something different, you open a new tab.
Once you get past its unfamiliarity, you’ll discover, as I did, that Google may be on to something.
Rethinking the OS
Like all innovators, Google is attempting to solve several long-standing problems with computers, including:
- the difficulty of diagnosing and fixing software related problems
- the complexity of finding, managing and updating numerous applications
- the confusion of file management
- the catastrophic loss of data in the event of a hardware failure
- the high cost of hardware and software for running modern operating systems and applications
- the inability to access all of your files and the Internet from anywhere
Google’s solution to those problems is Chrome OS. With its single-window, multi-tab user interface, its omnibox input field and its ability to run highly advanced web applications, it attempts to redefine how you compute.
With Chrome OS, you can manage email, do word processing, spreadsheets and presentations and even edit images. You can also access numerous web apps that are now available, either through a typical Chrome browser window, or initiated through specially designed apps, available from the Chrome Web Store.
While Chrome OS may seem too simple, it can actually accomplish most, if not all, of the daily tasks performed on all modern computers and operating systems. In fact, I wrote this article using Google Docs on my Chrome OS CR-48 laptop without any problems.
Pros and cons of Chrome OS
As with all technology, there’s the good, bad and ugly. But keep in mind that this is a pilot program. The intent of the program is to find out what works, what doesn’t and what’s completely missing or broken. So things that are in my cons list may be fixed when and if Google actually chooses to produce Chrome OS for the mass market.
Chrome OS pros
- Booting up or recovering from sleep mode is amazingly fast.
- The user interface is simple, and it’s impossible to get lost.
- Everything syncs perfectly to the cloud. I can use another Chrome OS computer, and everything is there.
- I love the rubbery outer layer of the laptop. Easy to grip, hard to drop—it just feels neat.
- One-click full screen mode: bring on the Zen.
- If you don’t have access to WiFi, you can connect via Verizon 3G.
- It has a built in camera for pictures and video chatting.
Chrome OS cons
- The screen isn’t bright, and that makes me miss my LED backlit MacBook Pro.
- The trackpad is probably the worst trackpad I’ve ever used in my life.
- Things can slow down a bit if you have tabs open to sites that use AJAX heavily.
- The shortcut key options are peculiar, and I miss having my Mac’s option key. Having to use the Control key for common shortcuts is ergonomic torture.
- It has a VGA output. What is this, the 90’s?!
- There’s no way to layer, cascade or put windows side-by-side. You get one window all the time, period.
- As you add more applications, bookmarks and extensions, things start to get cluttered quickly.
Chrome OS fulfills the need for a cheap, minimalist, functional operating system. With some more refinements, and better hardware, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Chrome OS to non-techie people, like my mom. I also wouldn’t hesitate to use it as a computer that I could travel with. The ideal scenario would be a computer with the MacBook Air form factor, coupled with Chrome OS, at a cost of $500 or less.
While Chrome OS is radically different from its predecessors, there are operating systems that are even more radical. Those include Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. They provide a completely different user experience, including a finger-to-screen touch interface, icon based navigation and minimalist single-window access to applications. From experiences with my own iPad, I’ve found that with the right apps and a bluetooth keyword, the iPad with iOS is a worthy competitor for replacing or supplementing modern computers.
For now, I think Chrome OS, iOS, and Android will only fill the gap for cheap mobile computing. Windows, Mac OS, and popular Linux distributions will continue to be the operating systems of choice. I do think that Chrome OS, along with iOS and Android, all have a fighting chance to become the new standard of computing, but I think it’s several years away. Each of the operating systems will require extreme maturation before becoming a viable alternative.