All about Google Chrome & Google Chrome OS

13 Apr 12 Google Chrome OS Review: Heading Towards Microsoft Market?

With an eye on an unseen, distant future the ‘pseudo-modern’ desktops are adopting the single windowed approach. Whether it be Microsoft‘s Metro, Ubuntu‘s Unity or Gnome‘s new shell, they all think PC is nothing more than a smartphone with a touch screen.

I am one of those who are not big fans of this approach. The ‘pseudo-modern’ desktop Uis are focused on smartphone/tablet like devices where you use one window (one app) at a time. What’s the point of buying expensive CPUs and GPUs (minimum system requirements for modern operating systems) and 27″ multiple monitors when all I can do is run one app at a time?

I see an irony here. While these so-called modern desktops are imitating mobile operating systems Android is heading towards a tiled (multi-windowed) interface where you will be able to use multiple apps in multiple windows simultaneously so that you can have a ‘complete’ PC experience.

PCs Are Not Smartphones
Google seems to be among those few who do understand the different between smartphones and PCs. Android devices will soon have multiple-windows interface where you will be able to use it like a traditional PC. What’s the point of a quad core processor and 2GB RAM when you are going to run one app at a time? Google is now brining the same approach to its web-based operating system Chrome OS. Google has gone back to the traditional desktop interface on its Chrome OS. This reverse trend is significant as ChromOS had that ‘single-windowed approach’. The new Chrome OS brings many new features along with the above mentioned ‘multiple-windowed’ interface.

What’s New In Chrome OS?
Everything is new in the latest Chrome OS. It now ‘looks and feels’ like a traditional desktop. Instead of being ‘trapped’ inside a browser now you can have multiple windows. Like a regular desktop you can now open websites, docs, file mangers, etc. in new windows, instead of stuck together as tabs. I have been using Chromebook for almost a year now and for the first time I felt free. There was a feeling of being trapped when you couldn’t do anything outside the browser. This itself is a massive improvement for Chrome OS.

The Chrome OS Desktop
It now has a desktop where you can change the wallpaper. The desktop is limited in a sense that you can’t (at least for now) drop application on it like a traditional desktop. But this is the first version of the new Chrome OS and I expect to see more improvements with future versions.

The Launcher
One of the most important and missing element was a ‘launcher bar’. The new Chrome OS now has a panel/launcher at the bottom. It works like Mac’s dock or the Launcher of Unity or Gnome shell. By default there are couple of apps pinned. The good news is you can pin or unpin the apps of your choice. Just right click on any pinned app and select the unpin option. You can also set the ‘launcher’ for auto-hide, always visible or Hide when Windows is maximized.

The ‘Applications’ icons on the Launcher invokes a Gnome Shell style grid of applications. Here you can see all the ‘installed’ apps. If you want to pin any app to the launcher app just right click on the app and select the ‘pin to the launcher’ option.

So, there is basic level of customization in Chrome OS. It’s only going to get better with further versions.

Chrome OS Task Bar
The extreme right of the Launcher is ‘Task Bar’, here you can quickly manage basic settings such a screen brightness, network, keyboard and volume. It also has the options of Shut Down, Sign-out and lock. (pay attention Gnome developers, even Chrome OS has the Shutdown option!).  You can click on more settings option and from there you can manage wallpapers, themes and much more.

Task Manager
Chrome OS now also has a Task Manager which allows a user to kill a misbehaving app. It also shows which app is consuming more resources. It’s a nice app for users, though my wife never needed to kill any apps.

Incognito Mode In Chrome OS?
If you want to use the incognito mode, simply log out of your Chromebook and use the ‘guest’ to log in. You can use this mode to browse the web without being tracked. So, Google has done a great job here for those concern about their privacy.

Web App Store
It’s all about apps honey. Apple knows it, Microsoft knows it and Google knows it too. What are you going to do with a great OS where there are no apps which you can use to do your work (I hope Ubuntu will increase focus in this direction). Google is working really hard on brining useful apps to its Chrome platform. There are a lot of useful apps available for Chrome OS.

Google recently upgraded its Chrome Web Store which now has an attractive layout similar to Google Play. The new web store makes it a pleasant experience to search and install applications in Chrome OS. Since these applications are synced with your Gmail account you will get all these apps if you use the Chrome browser from Ubuntu, openSUSE, Windows or Mac. Install and forget.

Windows in Chrome OS
Chrome OS is no more just a browser. Now you can tile windows. Which means you can open more than one Chrome window simultaneously. You can arrange the windows the way you want.

File Manager: Gdrive Introduced?
Chrome OS has introduced the much talked about Aura File Manager, which makes it extremely easy to manage the locally downloaded data such as images or documents. The File Manager basically has two folder – your local download folder and the Google’ Doc folder. One interesting thing that I noticed was that now you can simply ‘copy’ content from your local folder and ‘paste’ it in the Google Docs folder and vice verse, thus using Google Docs as a ‘GDrive’?

If you have ‘copied’ Google Docs files in the local directory you can start editing such documents. They will open in Google Docs. You can also create new folders and files in your Google Docs folder which will be automatically synced to your account. So actually working on Google Docs is far more easier now. While I was working on this story and taking screenshots I was simply copy pasting them from Download Folder to a new folder created within my Google Docs folder and content was already on the cloud.

You can also plug any USB drive (it detects and mounts ext4 formats) and copy paste the content to the Google Docs folder and its ‘on’ cloud. Or you can copy the content from your Google Docs folder to the USB stick.

One problem that remains is that it doesn’t open .odt or .doc files. To open such files you will have to use the ‘upload’ file option which will convert your documents into gdoc format which can be edited using Google Docs. I think Google needs to make it easier for users to start editing the odt or doc files stored on the USB. Not that it is a deal breaker as you can work on such files by uploading them.

This is a huge improvement.

Where Is The Market For Chrome OS?
With the new Chrome OS I think Google is targeting the ‘hardcore’ netbook market. Windows 8 will be a major challenge for users due to its doomed Metro UI. This creates an opportunity for a new player with a familiar interface and services optimized for netbooks. Unfortunately this netbook market was open for Canonical to exploit with their Ubuntu (and Ubuntu One). Canonical failed to capture this market. Google Chrome OS will be a perfect choice for those who want to use a netbook without having to struggle with Windows’ Metro UI. Acer and Samsung already have their Chromebooks in the market and now another heavyweight Sony is bringing its Chromebooks. In my opinion the news Chrome OS has arrive to launch Sony’s rumored Daisy Chromebook.

End Game?
I think Google will soon bring Android and Chrome OS together and offer a seamless integration between devices running Android and Chrome OS. We may see Chrome OS replacing Motorola’s WebTop OS so when you dock a phone with a monitor you are greeted by Chrome OS. There are many Android companies which are interested in these type of solutions. Asus has their PadPhone and Sony is also offering similar solutions with their smartphones. So, I can see Chrome OS and Android coming closer in future where Android will become the OS for mobile devices and Chrome OS will compliment it and capture the basic desktop market. I don’t know if Chrome OS will continue to evolve and become a full-fledge OS such as OS X, Windows or Ubuntu.

Will I Use Chromebook?
My wife was an Apple Mac user. Once we get married I migrated her to Ubuntu on a Dell XPS machine. Then we got a Chromebook and I gave her to see if an average user can use a Chromebook. Now, that’s her primary machine at home. Will I use Chromebook as my primary machine? I don’t think so. On my primary PC (which runs openSUSE and Kubuntu) I need a lot of desktop applications such as GIMP or KdenLive to create content. My secondary device is my Dell XPS laptop running openSUSE (Gnome) and Ubuntu Unity which I use during my travel, and we travel a lot. Most of the times we don’t have access to the Internet (especially on the flights). A Chromebook is useless without the Internet. You turn it on and you will be greeted by a white screen. I can’t work at all on my Chromebook if there is no Internet. So it is not my primary or secondary device at the moment. In fact my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is much more useful than the Chromebook as I can work irrespective of the connectivity.

I will consider Chromebook as my secondary device when Google enables me to work even when there is no Internet. I think Google needs to make Chromebook offline so that users can use it with or without the Internet.

Who Is It For?
As I said, my wife is a full time Chromebook user. It’s perfect for my mother in law, who stays at home most of the times (never takes her laptop out of the house) and stays connected to the Internet all the time. Chromebook is an excellent product for such use-cases. It is a great product for those who live their life inside a browser.

An interesting experience that when my wife was using her MacBook and then Ubuntu she would call me every now and then and would want me to fix a problem – frozen windows or things not working. I have not heard a single complain ever since she moved to Chromebook. The only problem he often faced was printing her documents as Chromebook can’t detect local printers. But then we bought a cloud enabled printer and now she simply pushes the prints to her HP cloud printer and get prints. I think this is another area where Google needs to focus on to allows users connect to networked printers.

Google Chrome OS will become my secondary devices the day I am able to work without having access to the Internet. I don’t think that day is far.

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