Why Google’s Chrome OS Will Fail [Opinion]

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Google’s Chrome OS is ambitious. Too ambitious. The concept of booting to a web browser is an enticing one, but Google hasn’t pulled it off well enough. Offline support is incomplete at best, the Chrome Web Store pales in comparison to other app stores and Chrome OS is on a collision course with Windows 8.

Chrome OS will fail — not by going down in flames, but by being quietly folded into Android. In fact, Android is already absorbing Chrome OS as we speak. R.I.P. Chrome OS; you were too far ahead of your time.

Offline Just Isn’t There

People use computers offline. It’s a simple fact, but Google struggles with it. When Chrome OS was announced, HTML 5 was all the rage. Surely, HTML 5 would bring strong offline support to Chrome OS. It wouldn’t matter where you were, you could still use your computer.

June 15, 2011: Chrome OS launches and the first Chromebooks start shipping out. Can users read their email, look at their calendar or edit documents offline? Nope, not yet.

The first stages of offline support were rolled out in August, 2011. Currently, you can view your calendar offline, view recent documents and – drum roll – there’s even offline Gmail!

Wait, I thought Gmail worked offline. Oh, that’s right – there’s a special app for offline Gmail. Google bolted offline support onto Gmail’s tablet interface instead of making it work properly with the regular Gmail app.

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It’s now 2012 and offline support is still incomplete at best. You can’t create new calendar events offline. Google Docs has viewing capability offline, but you can’t create a new document or edit an existing document without an Internet connection. I’m a big Google Docs user and whenever there’s a connection hiccup and I can’t continue writing, I reconsider that choice.

Android Is Absorbing Chrome

Google expects Chrome OS and Android to “converge”. Does that mean Chrome OS is going to run Android apps? It doesn’t look like it.

Android is already absorbing Chrome OS. Android 3 brought a Chrome-style browser interface and Chrome bookmark sync to tablets. Soon, Chrome itself will run on Android and you’ll tap a Chrome icon on your Android device to open the default web browser.

When Android smartphones and tablets have the full Chrome browser experience, does it really make sense to have a more stripped-down system for notebooks? Google was once considering Chrome OS for tablets, but it’s now betting on Android tablets.

The Windows 8 Problem

Microsoft is dragging Windows into the 21st century with Windows 8. Whether you love the Metro interface or hate it (I’m skeptical about Metro on the desktop), Windows 8 will include native support for first-class HTML 5 apps.

Is it any question that Windows 8 will have Metro apps that work offline? Imagine a full-featured Hotmail app that works offline. Or a Microsoft Office suite that synchronizes online with Office web apps and SkyDrive. Dramatic boot speed improvements and an integrated app store will bring many of Chrome OS’s features to Windows.

Microsoft’s offering will always have the legacy Windows desktop to lean on, even if it doesn’t have perfect support for web apps. Unless Chrome OS evolves quickly, it will be completely outclassed on its own turf by Windows 8.

It’s All About The Apps

The Android Market has over 400,000 apps. The Chrome Web Store? Nowhere near that. What’s more, many of them, including Google’s own (which should be flagship apps that show the potential of the platform,) are just bookmarks to websites.

Chrome OS is going up against Windows and Mac OS X – desktop operating systems with extensive application libraries. It’s fine as a niche project if you only want a web browser, but it hasn’t proven its own as a legitimate platform yet. The occasional app that uses Chrome’s technology to provide a rich experience is notable because it’s such a rare exception.

Android Everywhere

Windows 8’s fusion of touch and keyboard interfaces provides an example Google will likely follow. We already have Android tablets with apps designed for large screens; just add a keyboard dock and you have a replacement for a Chromebook that also works as a tablet. By the way, it’s already been done — it’s called the ASUS Transformer.

I’m a big Google fan — I use the Chrome browser, Android and a lot of Google’s web apps. I was even intrigued when Chrome OS was announced. But I’m sad to say, it’s just too ahead of its time.

So what do you think? Will Chrome OS continue to be a niche product until it’s replaced by Android? Or will I regret this post when we’re all using Chromebooks in 2020? Speak your mind in the comments.

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Comments (54)
  • harold vince

    apps are not needed on laptops. apps are needed to allow mobile devices to navigate content that is too difficult to navigate on a tiny mobile deice web browser. this was the big flaw in your prediction and why it was so incorrect.

  • Charlie

    As a owner of three Chromebooks and now a Chromebook I have completely migrated my life over to the cloud and couldn’t be happier. I could see how the writer still misses the the old way of doing things but this is the future. I for one can’t be happier and have converted my entire family over to a Chromebook.

    Anyone with a little Linux skills could easly install VLC, Libre Office, Java, Eclipse, Net Beans and other essential applications. You not just limited to what ever is on the cloud, I even have Wine installed along with Office 2007, Photoshop CS4, FruityLoops.

    However even without all of that I can still be very, very comfortable in a all browser atmosphere. No, a iPad doesn’t give you the same experience, in fact I find it to be one of the most limited online systems I have ever seen.

    • Chris Hoffman

      I’m coming around to the idea of Chrome OS. The new Chrome OS desktop and Google Drive are missing pieces of the puzzle. More powerful hardware is, too. Google seems to actually be pushing it — I was expecting them to cancel it, Google Wave-style, after it failed to take hold.

      Hold on, though — you mention installing Linux applications, but you can’t do that on Chrome OS. You’d have to replace Chrome OS with Linux. If you’re using a Ubuntu (or other Linux distro) desktop, you haven’t really embraced Chrome OS — you’re just using a Chromebook as a cheap Linux laptop. Kind of shows how ChromeOS isn’t really there for many people.

      The problem remains, though — Android and iOS have much richer apps than Chrome OS does.

  • Natedog

    Google OS will be integrated into Android but the concept remains. Think about it, a web company or software manufacturer’s direct access to your private info under the disguise of cool techie words like “Cloud –insert anything–” and gimmicks like “faster web processes!”, “access to your info anywhere!”, “smaller computing devices with no bulky hardware!”…..then

    …… THEIR, whoops, I mean YOUR possibilities are limitless!!! lol

  • Natedog

    Google OS will be integrated into Android but the concept still remains. Think about it, a web company or software manufacturer’s direct access to your private info under the disguise of cool techie words like “Cloud –insert anything–” and the gimmicks “faster processes!”, “access anywhere!”, “smaller computing devices!”…..

    …… THEN their, whoops, I mean YOUR possibilities are limitless!!! lol

  • ian

    Chris – its a good article. I agree Windows 8 will be a problem for Google, and Apple. I think MS’s strategy is a pincer action – introduce Windows mobile on the phones and Windows 8 on the desktop/laptop and then target the laptop/tablet hybrid market from both ends. Their special sauce is the strength they will have in the enterprise market, which will introduce a lot of people to their products. I have an Asus Transformer and its a good product but in “mouse” mode using the keyboard it is rubbish – they haven’t bothered to introduce proper mouse control – the mouse just controls the low res touch pointer. Its not good and these first interactive experiences can guide out future choices.

    • Chris Hoffman

      Thanks, Ian.

      Google is actually doubling down on Chrome OS and evolving the interface. Google Drive also fills a big hole. So it will be interesting to see if they’ve managed to fix Chrome OS.

      Rumor is that Chrome OS will be integrated with Android, so you can have the full Chrome OS environment when docked — this will give proper support for mice and such.

      The future will definitely be interesting.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.