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 pixlr.com 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.Advertisement
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