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?

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