Sunday, 1 December 2013

The New Chrome OS


The Google Chrome OS operating systemis now a rival to Windows 7, Ubuntu, Apple Mac OS Xand the rest. Chromebooks have been around for a couple years now, but they’ve never been appealing. The first version of Google's Chrome OS wasn't much more than a Google Chrome browser window with a few apps. It felt more like a statement - "Who needs local storage?" - than an operating system you could rely on.

Apps

The app environment has a distinct advantage in terms of keeping things neat and safe, but it comes at the cost of true openness and until programmers find ways to pare down their products so they run in a browser (which is by no means out of the bounds of possibility) Chrome OS is simply not going to cut it for many as their main computer.

There are also dedicated forward, back and reload buttons, which make lots of sense for a notebook built for the web. Hit Ctrl and the Search button and you'll go to an smartphone-like grid of shortcuts to your apps. And if you have a better memory than I do, you can learn the dozens of keyboard shortcuts - hit Ctrl+Alt+? for a full list.


Multiple windows support

You can now use multiple windows in Chrome, though they're all just separate browser windows. Still, that can be helpful - you can jump from one window to another with Alt-Tab or with a special function button. Each window has something that looks like a Windows maximize button, but it operates four ways through gestures. If you click on it and drag down, the window minimizes. Drag up and it goes full screen. Drag to the left or right and the window docks on either side, taking up half the screen. It's a fun innovation.

Offline Mode

The key issue with a cloud computer is that it becomes significantly less useful when it is offline. The computing world was rooted in offline for a long time and we are simply not used to feeling quite so bereft of functionality when we are not connected.

That, of course, is changing as well; modern games often require connections, our documents are often stored on servers rather than locally as offices become more collaborative and our data is often shared rather than hoarded on hard drives.

Bootup

For all the problems of being a cloud computer, there are some huge advantages. First of all Google insists that viruses will not be a problem. With the updates managed server side and the storage more or less in the cloud the company is confident that it can prevent malware ever being a significant problem. It also does away with a need for a lengthy scan which is welcome news indeed.

More significantly, Chrome OS is built to be up and running quickly both on initial setup and every time you press the power button or open your Chromebook.


All in all, the Chrome OS and Chromebooks seem to have made vast strides forward. It'll never be a good solution for people who are often away from a web connection (though it does have a built-in Verizon wireless broadband connection - you get 100MB per month free and can pay for more) or depend on sophisticated desktop software. Or for those who don't want to have their whole life wrapped up in the Google solar system of Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, etc.

But if much of what you do happens in the cloud anyway, a Chromebook has a lot of advantages - it's cheaper, fast, simple to operate and gets great battery life. Google's other OS has grown up a lot in the past year and a half. Chromebooks are already a good option for many people. If Google can add the ability to do significant work offline, all laptop buyers should give them serious consideration.