Review: ChromeOS – Half Baked Cookie

ChromeOS_Header

Introduction:

For newcomers, ChromeOS is Google’s operating systems for laptops or more specifically netbooks. Google has a special name for the devices running on the ChromeOS, Chromebook (for netbooks) and Chrombox (usual desktops). ChromeOS is made specifically keeping in the mind convergence of information. It’s geared towards the era of cloud computing. It’s not your run of the mill OS. It’s for always connected, always online people, not necessarily workaholics.
ChromeOS was launched in the year 2009. Just like Android, ChromeOS too, is a Linux based OS. While ChromeOS is strictly Google, there is Chromium OS, it’s open source variant, developed by Google only like AOSP. The first device to use it was Google’s developer device Cr-48.
ChromeOS is meant for low-power devices such as netbooks which are not the primary devices. With ChromeOS, Google is not necessarily trying to displace the established majors but we wouldn’t rule out it just yet. But does it do anything different than currently trending operating systems like Windows and Linux? We try to find out

Design:

Chrome OS has simplistic approach for its user interface. Compared to initial versions where all it had was literally a browser, it has come a long way. Using Chrome OS shouldn’t feel alien to you, at least that didn’t happen to us. It looks similar to any other modern day operating system.
Four major parts of its UI and one minor are, Chrome browser, conventional task bar, app finder, notification/settings center and desktop. Wonder why we called desktop minor? Read on. Although it has a proper desktop, it doesn’t do anything but showing your wallpaper. You can’t have shortcuts on desktop. Odd, isn’t it? If at all you feel like having quick shortcuts to your apps, all of them go to the taskbar or shelf as Google calls it. Shelf (taskbar) host app launcher shortcut at the very left and notification panel at extreme right. All your app icons seat in between them.

ChromeOS_App_Launcher

App launcher is as its name suggests hosts all installed apps, similar to Start button in Windows. You can either click on its shortcut or press the ‘find’ key on the keyboard to bring up the app launcher. App launcher has 4×4 grids of app icons and horizontally scrollable pages. You can also type inside its search box to find apps quickly.

ChromeOS_Notifications Quick_Settings_Panel

For every notification, there appears a counter on the shelf. Counter shows the total number of pending notifications while clicking on it brings up the whole list. Every time there’s a notification, it appears explicitly above the shelf at right side. If you get a lot of notifications, you can set them to ‘do not disturb’ mode. Doing so won’t display the notifications explicitly and thus wouldn’t interrupt you. Notification panel’s summarized view on the shelf display time, WiFi network status, battery level and the user account image. Once you click on it, you get detailed view and you can also access settings right from there. Expanded view also has the button to shut down and lock your Chromebook. Clicking on the settings opens up a new tab in the browser which has all OS and device related settings.

The task switcher can be brought up in two ways, either by using regular ALT+TAB combo or by pressing the windows button on the keyboard. Task switcher shows the live preview of the running apps.

Task_Switcher

Working and Functionality:

Chrome OS is literally very fast in terms of the time it requires to boot fully. From turned off state to the desktop, it takes somewhere around six seconds.
Commenting on Chrome OS’s functionality is a tough job,literally. Although based on the Linux, ChromeOS is not at all open like it. Indeed its very much closed, even Windows is more open compared Chrome OS. You work the way Google tells you. Chrome OS is built around the Google’s ecosystem of online services. All your essential works need internet connection. Unless you’ve a very reliable connection, at least during 9 to 5 work hours, Chrome OS wouldn’t be a OS of choice. You edit docs in Google Docs, create excel sheets in Google Sheets and make presentations in Google Slide. All of them require internet to work efficiently. Most of the 3rd party apps too are dependent on the internet. Some like Google Docs would be able to edit files offline if there’s no connection and then sync when the OS goes online. Apparently, Chrome OS makes all your files and folders available offline so that you can edit them and update the cloud copy when it’s connected to the internet. But if you have lots of files on the cloud, this behavior will cause you run out of the real storage on your Chromebook.
That was a one side of it. If you’re someone who does just making docs and presentations and shooting emails at juniors, Chrome OS definitely fits the bill. It’s true that Chrome OS makes you work in the cloud but the advantage of it is that your files and work are available to you irrespective of the device you use or your location. This also takes away the hassle of carrying USB drives. But mind you, this is good only for lightweight files.
Productivity is well covered in Chrome OS with Google’s suite of apps. This again is good as long as you are actually using Google services for everything including your mails. If you’re thinking about using a Chromebook in enterprise environments, where there are different provisions for everything essentially emails, Chrome OS wouldn’t really find a place unless your company is using services through Google Apps. This for a various reasons such as information security. Offline email support is very poor in Chrome OS, to say the least. It supports offline email only for Google accounts.
File manager offered by the Chrome OS also integrates audio/video player and a simple image editor.

File_Manager File_Manager_Mosaic_View File_Manager_Editor

It is clear that Google wants you to use nothing else but its own services. This is the reason we call it a closed platform. As far as app support is concerned there are quite a few apps in Chrome store. Most of them are ‘just get it done’ type, so don’t expect to find an equivalent alternative to traditional photo and video editing tools. Most of the apps are browser based, that is, they run inside the Chrome browser on new tab page. Handful of them are native apps and very few run offline. You can refer to Lifehacker’s list of must have apps for Chrome OS. Also thanks to sites like Koding.com, coding can now also take place in the cloud. All you need is a internet connection.

Another weird thing we noticed during our review period that it was unable to detect our couple of smartphones. One of them was running Android 4.2 and other was Windows Phone 8. Android smartphone was not detected by it when it default MTP. In the case of Android, you can at least get your files through Google Drive if they are synced. This sounds more like lack of required drivers which we think Google can fulfill in updates. Another shortcoming of Chrome OS is its inability to connect to your printers and MFPs. If you need to print anything at all from Chrome OS, you need a printer connected to a non-Chrome OS PC which in turn is connected to Google’s Cloud print, requiring internet connection. Same is the case with scanners. Having a printer sitting right next to you but not able to use because you’re on Chromebook, is a pain. Google must do something to this. Chrome OS is supposed to make everything easier not painful. It’s not as easy as incompatibility of old printers with LPT/SCSI ports with our modern systems. Whether or not world adapts cloud computing in coming years, trying to make just about anything cloud only is utter stupidity. Thankfully USB drives don’t take extra efforts than usual to get them working.
There will be rare occasions when you’ll need to dig into Chrome OS’s settings. These settings include usual stuff like date and time, touchpad settings

Conclusion:

Chrome OS in its current form is still miles behind than its closest competitor, let alone the Windows. It doesn’t offer anything extra that we can’t do existing systems. Due to repeated mention of Windows in this review, some of you may argue that this one is biased. Maybe it is. It’s due to the fact that we, like you, are coming from the territory of the full fledged desktop OS-es. This is not to say Chrome OS is a total waste. But Google’s approach to make just everything online annoys us. Google has to find the balance between the both. What Google could do with Android doesn’t seem to reflect here.
Chrome OS addresses very small set of users due to its approach and the limitations that come with it. But for those of you, who don’t want all the hassles of traditional operating systems and given the fact that your work revolves around docs and emails and all of the Google’s services, Chrome OS is just perfect for you. The factor that hampers the productivity of the Chrome OS is the poor ecosystem of apps for it. Google must address this one quickly. Right now Chrome OS is Windows Phone (darn,Windows again) of the desktop operating systems. Chrome OS has to go through the fire before it becomes Android of the desktop OS-es and if it’s real gold, it’ll come out and shine.