Can you live with Google’s Chrome OS? Erm, No

Mike Halsey MVP
Aug 13, 2011
Updated • Mar 19, 2015

A few days ago I took delivery of a Samsung Chromebook to test, I'll be writing my full review of the Chromebook in a few days, but I wanted to see how easy it would be to live with the Chromebook as my main PC for a week.  You can read that first article here.

To be fair to Google and Chrome OS I'm being a little unfair with the title of this article as some people will clearly be extremely happy living with a Chromebook as their primary computer.  I decided to give the "no" as my overall conclusion however because these demographic groups simply aren't the majority.  Let me explain.

Google's Chrome OS, which is a Linux based OS that is simply nothing more than a web browser, is an accomplished piece of work.  It's very fast and responsive and for the 90% of things we do on computers that just happen to be online, perfectly good and usable.  After all, what's the difference between using a web browser in an operating system and using a browser that is an operating system?

Unfortunately you don't have to be using Chrome OS for very long before the limitations begin to creep in.  The lack of offline applications, proper ones anyway, for editing the documents we all use in our day to day lives, such as Word and Excel files and digital photographs is just galling.

Having to edit these documents in a web application is simply not good enough for most people.  These applications are limited anyway but even more so when you can only edit documents you have stored on that service.  Both Hotmail and Gmail will allow you to edit documents sitting in your inbox but email is a crummy way to transfer files around when we've got USB flash drives.  There is limited storage on Chromebooks and you can technically use this to store files that are later uploaded to Office Live or Google Docs, but that's not the solution most people want.

It's even worse when it comes to editing photos.  Most services these days, including the already excellent will take an age to upload a digital photograph from your camera, let alone a whole bunch of them.  Then having nowhere on your device to store these photos is very unhelpful.

I was interviewed by the IEEE back in January 2010 about Chrome OS, shortly after it was announced.  I was dubious about the concept then, saying that while Google might be confident that cloud-based services were the way forward, and that they might even be correct in that assumption, that the current infrastructure of the Internet simply isn't good enough to permit it in any meaningful way.  This is the whole problem with Chrome OS, in that it's just too ahead of its time.  There's little wrong with the actual product, but your average Internet connection simply isn't up to the job of working with it.

There are other ways in which Chrome OS falls down though beyond a lack of storage and a lack of a meaningful way to edit documents offline (though in fairness Google do say they'll be adding offline support for Google Docs soon, and are rushing out Chrome OS updates very frequently).  The lack of any type of media player means you either have to use up your bandwidth listening to Spotify or YouTube, or you work in silence.  This isn't much fun I can assure you, and I quickly found myself crying out for a media player.

There's also the security issue.  While Google will argue that Chrome OS isn't prone to viruses it is prone to malware that tries to trick ther user into parting with sensitive data.  The browser security goes some way to rectifying this but it's still not enough and third-party malware detection apps are now beginning to appear in the Chrome OS web store.  This is a problem Google need to recognise and act upon if they're going to behave responsibly.  With the ongoing debacle over Android security still raging though, I'm not getting my hopes up.

Finally there's the backup and restore problem.  Chromebooks don't come with a restore function.  In order to create one yourself you need to activate your Chromebook with your user account.  This primary account can never be deleted though so should you want to pass the device on to a friend it will be there forever.  This is a huge oversight and one that Google badly need to fix because I've certainly not found a way to do it.

Overall though there are too many failings in Chrome to recommend it for day to day usage for all but the most casual computer user.  This does bring me on to the categories of people who would like it though, these being children and pensioners.  For these two groups, who will have limited use for a computer except for games, browsing and messaging, Chrome OS is a great idea.  It's simple to use, difficult to break (though my Chromebook crashed on me once on the first day) and does everything these people will need.

So can I recommend Google's Chrome OS?  Well it's not looking good so far but the hardware could still save it, and I'll publish my full review of the Samsung Chromebook here in a couple of days.

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Can you live with Google’s Chrome OS? Erm, No
Is a Chrome OS device good enough to replace a desktop PC or notebook running Windows, Linux or Mac OS X?

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  1. David O said on August 18, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    I think that Chrome is the way we all eventually will end up going but it will take quite some time for us all to get there. Firstly we need to get used to using the internet as our backup rather than a local hard disk. Makes emminent offsite sense and we all will eventually adopt this.

    Once the majority are comfortable with this then it is easy to transition to the point of why not store, edit and maintain our data in the cloud rather than keep downloading/uploading it for backup purposes. Those of us paranoid may decide to keep a local copy in case but as trust develops then many will discard the need for this and live totally in the cloud.

    Data services will evolve to meet this need and think how far we have come with mobile data and broadband in the last decade. ADSL first came to me only in 2004 and its hard to believe I had a life before that which involved plenty of listening to modem tones.

    Its quite an exciting future really.

  2. Daeng Bo said on August 16, 2011 at 2:59 am


    Firstly, I don’t think that Chromebooks are intended for pro/semi-pro/shutterbug photographers, who need a full photo workflow and the apps that go with them. Most others aren’t interested in RAW photos at all, finding the 640×480 on Facebook sufficient. Picasa doesn’t count photos below 2Kx2K pixels against your storage quota, but more storage is available for purchase quite cheaply.

    Finally, you can just attach an external drive if you want local storage for your RAW photos. I recommend that you get something with more than an Atom processor, though.

  3. kc said on August 15, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Doesn’t picasa actually have a limitation with regard to the file size of the image that you upload? I am almost positive that they do. What will this do to anybody who wants to upload RAW images taken using a DSLR?. I would think that it will be a nightmare if you do not allow local storage. Also, now that mobile service providers are actually gonna cap the usage, how does that affect Chrome users.. unless there is an option of an affordable truly unlimited data plan, this device can be the fancy laptop that just sits in your table.

  4. Jack Marshall said on August 15, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    The title of your piece should be “Can _I_ Live with Google’s Chrome OS?” If you were in fact asking me, the answer would be “Erm, yes.”

    When you press a Chromebook into service as YOUR “main PC,” a use it isn’t intended to serve, of course it will come up short. I don’t know why it is so many tech pundits so completely miss that point. In the same vein, I’ll pass along a few other life’s observations: A Honda fit is no substitute for a Chevy Suburban, a toaster and a microwave oven aren’t the same thing, and a jackhammer is better at busting up concrete than a ball-peen…

  5. Mehdi S said on August 14, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Tested it out. Not my cup of tea. Too many shortcomings. Major lack of offline applications, unability to browse HD etc.

    Its saving face is that if you only need to surf, it will do. Else, it is a long long way behind.

  6. enver said on August 14, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    It’s going to be like Linux or at its best, like MacOS in terms of usage-statistics. Nothing special.: ((

  7. Daeng Bo said on August 14, 2011 at 11:12 am

    A native editor: (Not my blog)
    Now that NaCl has landed in Chrome, expect to see the Chromebook functionality pick up.

  8. Satya said on August 14, 2011 at 11:03 am

    I hear today that Chrome OS has now its own offline image editor. Hoping to see more offline apps soon.

  9. Cattleya said on August 14, 2011 at 8:30 am

    “Can you live with Google’s Chrome OS?”
    No, I tested Chrome OS and see that It is slower than normal Linux.

    1. SPM said on August 20, 2011 at 6:40 pm

      I suspect that the reason you found Chrome OS to be slower than Linux (possibly on the same higher than Chromebook spec hardware) is because your Chrome OS does not (yet) take advantage of hardware GPU acceleration, and does not use an SSD, as the Chromebook does.

      I have found the Chromebooks to be fast compared to minimal installs of full Linux distributions on similar hardware, and significantly faster than Windows 7 netbooks on similar hardware. The same may not be true if you use the unaccelerated Chrome OS on higher spec hardware to compare with the full Linux/Windows installs where full OS installs don’t struggle as much, when you don’t use a faster SSD, and where GPU acceleration is supported.

  10. Ankur said on August 14, 2011 at 7:21 am

    With due to respect to Google WOrk for that OS, I dont think its much of use to many people. we have phones so advanced now that it solves purpose of daily needs.

    Our laptops need to be powerful and much capable of doing things than just surfing.

  11. EuroScept1C said on August 14, 2011 at 2:42 am

    It’s going to be like Linux or at its best, like MacOS in terms of usage-statistics. Nothing special.

    I’d bet on this.

  12. dw4rf_t0ssr said on August 14, 2011 at 12:52 am

    Doesn’t sound like a primary computer, that’s for sure. Could have it’s uses as a mostly Internet book, obviously. Might as well format it and slap some Ubuntu on it.

    Nice thoughtful writeup, was curious about Chrome OS.

  13. Dean said on August 13, 2011 at 11:23 pm


    You say Mike misses the point… and then go on to not make any point(s); you talk about one facet that you find useful (Documents) and then ignore the rest of the article.

    Even then, your argument has flaws – “If I didn’t have an iPhone I wouldn’t need another machine…”, “… it doesn’t, I use another machine”

    Plus – the article doesn’t state any problems with formats, just with features and the process of transferring documents being a royal pain in the ar$e. There is lots of times I work on computers that either don’t have internet access or I’m unable to transfer the documents to a cloud based environment for other reasons.

    If Mike is missing the point, could you enlighten me as to what it is?



  14. Brian said on August 13, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    I think that you’re missing the point. I’ve had a Google Chromebook (in the form of the Google CR-48) since December 2010 and I almost never use anything else. If I didn’t have an iPhone, I wouldn’t need another machine. Google Docs works with most every document I need to edit and the few that it doesn’t I use another machine (likely at work). The very idea of Google Docs is so much more powerful than stand alone word processing and transferring files, that I don’t miss a word processor at all. (I’ve been on Google Docs since almost the beginning and have thousands of documents there–and I don’t miss folders on a hard drive even a little bit).

    As for picture editing, you’re probably right, but I don’t do much of that. I’m a writer and a teacher and as such, everything I need (other than the damn iPhone) is available on the Chromebook. It’s enough for my parents (and easier than a windows or mac machine), enough for my kids, and so on. It’s not for everyone, but it is much more useful than your review would have us believing.

    Once I ditch my iPhone and switch to an Android phone, I’ll have no more need of my wife’s MacBook and will have only the CR-48 and a Linux machine. No more viruses, no more worries. I’m all set. Give the Chromebook more than a week’s try.

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