Google’s launch of Chrome OS was one of 2011’s most disappointing moments. After much hype, several delays and endless speculation about the end of the traditional operating system we received a half-baked solution that lacked functionality and felt slow.
Since then, Google has been gradually updating Chrome OS. The user experience has improved significantly. Here are five reasons to go back and give it another go.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of Chrome OS was its performance. When I reviewed the Acer Chromebook last year I found that it felt sluggish. Multi-touch scrolling was jerking, multi-tab browsing was slow and pages took too long to render. The experience was no better than that of a typical Windows netbook.
Google seems to have addressed these issues. Multi-touch support is now silky-smooth, though only a few gestures can be used. Web browsing is better than the typical Windows netbook and multi-tab browsing is possible, though going beyond five or six tabs is still difficult if your experience is powered by an Atom processor.
I wouldn’t call the performance outstanding, but it’s surprisingly good given the hardware a Chromebook has access to. Users installing Chrome OS on a more powerful system would receive even better results.
More Web Apps
The lack of competent web apps was a massive problem for Chrome OS when it launched. The idea of using browser apps sounds attractive, but if there’s no decent apps to use, what’s the point?
The Chrome Web Store has had a real explosion of content since the launch of the operating system. And it’s good content. There are fun games to play, functional apps to use and plenty of extensions to install.
Most of it is free, as well. I’m sure this will no longer be the case if Chrome OS becomes popular (or the Chrome web browser becomes dominant) but for now the web store is a cheapskate’s playground.
Just released, Google Drive is effectively Dropbox by Google. The biggest difference between it other previous cloud storage solutions is its integration with Google’s services. For example, the primary view of Google Drive looks exactly like that of Google Docs – and shows all of your files.
This is important because Chrome doesn’t have a decent file manager. Some improvements have been made over time, but even in upcoming developer versions its woefully inadequate compared to Windows or OS X. Google Drive largely solves this problem. The files that you frequently need to move or access can be stored in the cloud.
Critics will point out that only 5GB of storage is available for free. That’s a good point, but also somewhat irrelevant to the purpose of Chrome OS, which has always focused on less powerful computers with small amounts of fast storage. This operating system is still designed primarily for a secondary, super-portable compute. Google Drive supports that purpose.
Google made a big deal of its browser-only focus when developing the operating system. Since its release they have (thankfully) backed away from that point. The new beta and developer versions of Chrome OS have a desktop. And it’s a good one.
The Chrome OS desktop steals the best user interface elements of Windows and Mac OS X. The taskbar works much like the one in Windows 7. Pages and can pinned to it and opened later. There’s also a new app tray that is similar to Mac OS X Launch Pad, but it’s actually easier to use.
Since there is now a desktop it’s now possible to open multiple windows and use them side-by-side. This makes sense now that there are decent web apps to use. You might want a certain app open in one window and a web page open in another.
It’s Free – And Chromebooks Are Cheaper
Chrome OS is still a free, open source project. This means that anyone can potentially obtain the source code and alter it for any system.
That requires some hefty geek credentials, however – way over my head and probably over yours, as well. Fortunately, a person going by the name Hexxeh has created a handy website with builds that can be successfully installed on many computers besides Chromebooks. If you want better driver support – let’s say you want to install Chrome OS on a more modern laptop or desktop instead of an Atom based netbook – you can try Hexxeh’s Chrome Lime project.
If you don’t have a laptop and are in the market for an inexpensive option, Chromebooks are now worth consideration. I particularly like the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook with Wi-Fi, which is priced at a reasonable $299 (down from $429 at launch). I still don’t think Chrome OS is a good choice for a primary computer, but if you already have a desktop or a large laptop and you want a portable PC, the Chromebook is a better choice than many Windows netbooks.
Chrome OS still isn’t perfect. Some basic features, like power management, have not been implemented. The design choices made create some unavoidable obstacles, such as incompatibility with Linux apps that should in theory be compatible.
Despite this, I now enjoy Chrome OS. It’s simple. It’s quick. It does what it’s built to do well. If you’d written it off before, give it another shot. You might be surprised.