Google Chrome OS - Not Everything to Everyone

Over the weekend I read a few articles on why Google's Chrome OS will be (or even already is!) a "failure." The common thread running through these supposedly fatal flaws was a misconception of the fundamental reasons for Chrome OS. It doesn't do everything because it doesn't need to do everything.

A 98% solution

I have been using a Chrome OS Cr-48 netbook as my primary computer since I turned it on Thursday evening. I spend most of my personal computer time on the web. At a guess, I can probably meet 98% of my computing needs in the cloud so adjusting to the web-focused OS has been easy. I check email, catch up on the news, keep my calendar, grab a weather forecast, listen to music, and even place phone calls online. If you spend most of your computer time playing the latest first-person shooters, then Chrome OS is probably not a good choice for your primary computer.

No Drive

The Cr-48 has no hard disk or DVD drive, which I've seen decried as a critical deficiency. This is only reference hardware, of course, but I have no reason to believe that a commercial product running Chrome OS would need to have them either. There is a small solid-state drive that web apps can use for local/offline storage. There's also an SD card slot that users can fill to store downloads. I could see a user possibly wanting to pop in a DVD with home videos or photos to upload or watch, and that may be supported eventually with a USB DVD drive. Cutting out these non-essential drives will make Chrome OS products smaller and less expensive, which seem like obvious wins to me.

Chrome OS vs. Android

The fact that Google is backing two separate, yet in some ways similar, operating systems seems to confuse some people. This is in part because the two overlap: Android typically runs on phones and tablets; Chrome OS is designed to run on anything from desktop PCs to tablets.

I've had an Android phone for a few months. Before the Cr-48 came along, I would check email, Google Reader, Facebook, and run the occasional Google search on my phone. The Cr-48 running Chrome OS has certainly stolen much of that activity. It's easy to have the netbook sitting next to me while I work, and I can keep it within reach on the coffee table if I'm watching TV or playing video games. Each device (and OS) has its place and I appreciate having the choice of which to use when their features ovarlap.

Chrome OS <3 Android

What I would love to see is more interaction between Android and Chrome OS devices. Chrome to Phone is a great start. But imagine if you could sit down at any Chrome OS computer anywhere in the world - say, a friend's netbook or a kiosk in a public library - and connect your phone to the USB port. The phone would prompt you to authorize the connection, and then start acting as a proxy for Chrome OS. The computer would treat you as a guest, preventing anything you do from leaving a mark on the computer after you log off and your phone, which has already authenticated your Google account, is handling all the sensitive transactions and keeping your passwords safe. If the two devices were programmed to work together properly, things like OAuth attempts could be intercepted on the phone. Instead of typing a password on the computer you're using as a guest, you would type it on your trusted Android device. Any information you access, such as a private email, would of course still reach the computer and be vulnerable if the computer has been compromised. Or if someone is standing behind you. But that seems a lot safer, to me, than typing your password into a shared or public computer.

Let's take that idea into the business world. Now, instead of you not trusting the computer it's the computer that doesn't trust you. If you could use your Android phone (or other device) as an access card, then any computer in the office could be your computer. No more suits walking the halls carrying laptops! Your IT department installs security software on the company's Android devices and Chrome OS workstations so that you can plug into any computer in the office and pick up working on that proposal document where you left off at your desk. When you unplug your phone, the computer locks up again and forgets about you before you've turned around. Your document, instead of being on the phone or on a hard disk in your cubicle, is tucked away safely in your company's private cloud.

But back to reality, here are a few more things I've been doing with Chrome OS:


I found the secret switch in the battery compartment. I flipped it to see what would happen, but I haven't gone all the way to turning on developer mode yet. I'm still enjoying seeing what it can do right out of the box.


I installed a few apps from the Chrome Web Store, which is how you add features to your Chrome OS experience (short of developer mode; see above).

I've found Scratchpad to be useful - I have been using it to keep notes on what I want to try on the Cr-48 and what I want to write about here.

Streaming HD radio with the NPR App produced mixed results. The app is slow to respond to clicks and it takes too many clicks to do simple things, like start playing my local NPR station even after I'd added it to my "favorites." It also doesn't handle having the lid closed while live streaming. When I open up again, it starts playing for a while (clearing the buffer, I assume) and then it just stops. I have to refresh the page to get it started again. On a positive note, streaming audio didn't seem to interfere with other activities, like checking email and editing documents. Chrome OS handled multitasking well.

Writing more

I'm sure it says something about how much I like using the Cr-48 that I've written more blog posts on it in the last week than I usually write in a month. It isn't just having something to write about; the Cr-48 is easy and convenient to write with.

I'm still hoping to find a screen reader that works on Chrome OS, and I need to try video chat. Any other suggestions?

Cr-48: Day 2 with my Chrome OS netbook

As I wrote yesterday, I have a new Cr-48 netbook as part of Google's Chrome OS pilot program. I've tried several new things with my Cr-48 today, which I want to share with you all.

Basic Black++

You've probably seen already that the Cr-48 is black (try the link above if you haven't seen it yet). I have nothing against black. Black is cool. And the Cr-48 is very black. Google kindly included a colorful sticker to add a little style to that very black black. That sticker and a couple of others I had lying around personalize my new toy nicely. (If anyone from Google is reading: I need more Googley stickers, and I won't even charge you for the ad space! May I humbly suggest one that reads "Ask me about Chrome OS"?)

This isn't a great picture because: a) I'm not a great photographer and b) it was taken with a camera phone. I uploaded it from my Android phone directly to Picasa and did what I could with Picnik to crop and clean it up on my Cr-48.

External monitor wonkiness

I hooked up an old monitor and a couple of USB peripherals to my Cr-48 to see how those devices would work with it.

The monitor worked, sorta. I plugged it in and hit the "mirroring" key, which made the display on my Cr-48 go blank. But the image that appeared on my monitor wasn't quite right. I expected stretching or a letterbox since the monitor wasn't widescreen. What I got was a letterbox copy of the Cr-48's display, but it was vertically aligned on the bottom of the screen, instead of the middle. It also looked pinched. A while later I shutdown and stepped away from the Cr-48, leaving the monitor hooked up. When I powered up again, both the Cr-48 and the monitor displayed the screen image, and the monitor was adjusted properly for the different aspect ratio. This is more like it! But I couldn't leave well enough alone, so I unplugged the monitor and hit the mirroring key again. The display on the Cr-48 came back. I plugged in the monitor and hit the mirroring key yet again. The display switched to the monitor. I continued to fiddle with it for a while but I couldn't figure out how to get them both to display again without shutting down the Cr-48. So, this feature needs a little tweaking.

The mouse worked exactly as expected. No drivers to install.

I was hoping that I could at least browse audio/visual media with the USB card reader, but no such luck. It didn't seem to recognize the device at all. Not sure if this is supposed to be supported yet. The Cr-48 does include an SD card reader, which is probably the most common form factor in use today. I would guess that's all the card reading most users would need.

Watching high def video

I visited The Daily Show to try high definition video streaming. The playback was a little choppy in places, but I don't know if that was down to hardware or software. After I had the video full-screen for a while, the playback controls stopped responding to clicks and I couldn't pause. I alt-tabbed out and the audio kept playing, but then I couldn't get back in to the window with the full-screen video. The tab that launched the video just showed a black box, where I would have expected the video to return to it's non-full-screen state. Closing that tab stopped the audio playback.

I also watched Chrome Event 12/07/2010 on YouTube. That worked well.

And even though I had already read that it wouldn't work, I went to Netflix to try streaming a movie. They don't support Chrome OS yet. I have heard that there's an Android streaming solution in the works, which I can't wait to try.

Best feature ever

I love this one: pressing ctrl+alt+/ opens an on screen keyboard. Big deal, right? It isn't like this thing has a touchscreen (or does it...? I haven't actually touched the screen). The cool part is that the labels on the keys change as you press and release the modifier keys (shift, ctrl, alt). That is just so awesomely useful. Why doesn't every application do that? Note to Google: ctrl+alt+c needs more cowbell.

Chrome Web Store

I have looked at the Chrome Web Store a couple of times and even installed an app from it, but I haven't really used the store enough to give a reasonable evaluation. Maybe I'll be able to do another post about that this weekend.

Got my Chrome Pilot's License

I'm writing this post from my new Cr-48 Chrome OS netbook. I love it. It's very light (3.8 lbs, according to the pilot program's website). The keyboard feels good; the individual keys are large, which is made possible by the removal of the function keys, the "lock" keys, the number pad, and other non-essentials. The screen is bright. I'm not thrilled with the touchpad yet, but I always need a while to get used to them.

But that's all hardware. What about the software? Well, it's Chrome. After logging in you see the Google Chrome browser. That's where I spend most of my time anyway, so it's familiar and intuitive to use for me. Chrome OS even imported all of my bookmarks, extensions, etc. that I sync on my other computers running the Chrome browser.

I'm looking forward to exploring Chrome OS further. If anyone from Google is reading: thank you!

Update: See what I had to say after day two with my Cr-48.