All about Google Chrome & Google Chrome OS

14 Jun 12 Chrome OS reviewed: The final verdict on Google’s cloud platform

Today, I’ll get my head out of the cloud.

I’ve spent the past two weeks, you see, using Google’s Chrome OS. I called it my Chrome OS experiment: I wanted to dive in head first and experience what it was like to live completely in Google’s cloud-centric world.

I used a combination of the new Samsung Chromebook (Series 5 550) and the new Samsung Chromebox for the bulk of my computing needs, both in the office and out. Day by day, I detailed different parts of my journey — ranging from my thoughts on the hardware to my impressions of Google’s reimagined software and what it’s really like to work with Chrome OS offline.

You can visit each of those chapters for my in-depth thoughts on the topics. Today, I wanted to put it all together to share some final conclusions after two weeks of life in the Chrome lane.

So grab your favorite beverage and buckle up: Our ride starts now.

Conclusion #1: Chrome OS has a come a long, long way.

From both a hardware and software perspective, it’s impossible to overstate just how much Google’s Chrome OS has evolved since its introduction 17 months ago.

Google Chrome OS Chromebook, Chromebox

The hardware — in both the new Chromebook and Chromebox — is finally powerful enough to support a compelling Chrome OS experience. Past generations of hardware, from the Cr-48 test notebook to the first-gen Samsung Series 5 Chromebook, were woefully underpowered and couldn’t keep up with multitasking-style use. As such, it was difficult to embrace them beyond specific and limited circumstances (for me, light traveling and casual around-the-house Web browsing).

The new machines allow us to experience Chrome OS the way it was meant to be experienced — no slowness, no lag, no more hardware limitations holding the software back.

And as for the software? Well…

Conclusion #2: Chrome OS has finally evolved into a true platform.

I’ve been intrigued by Chrome OS since its start, but in the early days, the software had an awful lot of pesky holes. On top of that, it was basically just a series of full-screen browser windows — nothing more — and that one-dimensional environment could feel rather restrictive and jarring to use.

Chrome OS File ManagerWith its newly revamped Chrome OS, Google has truly put the “OS” into the equation. Chrome OS sticks to its goal of being a browser-based, cloud-centric platform — but it now does it in a way that’s far more palatable and inviting to the user. Without abandoning its cloud-centric philosophy, the software also allows for a level of local file management and offline functionality — even simple remote access to Windows, Mac, or Linux PCs — taking away most of the platform’s former liabilities.

Conclusion #3: Chrome OS offers a lot of attractive advantages over traditional PC setups.

As I mentioned, I’ve liked Chrome OS for a long time — but between the hardware and software limitations, it’s always been a limited-use, supplementary kind of system for me. With the latest hardware and software upgrades, that’s no longer the case.

In the time I’ve been using the Chromebook and Chromebox, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how little I’ve missed my standard Windows 7 desktop setup. The Chrome OS systems power up in three to five seconds; once you type in your Google credentials, it’s literally another two to three seconds before you’re in a browser window, online and ready to roll. The minutes-long wait for my Windows laptop to boot up and be ready to use has never felt more archaic.

Startup speed aside, the Chrome OS systems make a lot of things about traditional computing environments feel outdated: the cumbersome setup and installation procedures; the annoying and time-consuming OS upgrades; the need to manually update applications over time; the need to use antivirus software (and the accompanying likelihood and potential consequences of infection); the reliance on complicated drivers; and the inevitable bogged-down, slowed-down effect that always seems to happen to PCs after you’ve had ‘em for a few months.

Chrome OS doesn’t have any of those hassles. It’s just about getting online and getting stuff done, plain and simple. Most of the annoyances that have long accompanied computer use are nowhere to be found.

And let me tell you: As someone who uses computers all day, that is a huge breath of fresh air. For schools and businesses, too, the implications are enormous.

Conclusion #4: Chrome OS still isn’t for everyone.

For all its positives, Chrome OS isn’t going to be the right setup for everyone. If you rely on a lot of resource-intensive local programs — or if you have specific desktop utilities you just adore — you may find Chrome OS frustrating to use. While there are plenty of cloud-based apps available for most purposes, the experience using them isn’t always as good or as complete as what you find on their PC-based equivalents.

For example, even as someone who relies heavily on the cloud these days, using Chrome OS makes me realize how much I prefer the desktop TweetDeck application over its Web-based counterpart (the old desktop TweetDeck app, that is — you know, from before Twitter bought and ruined it). Photoshop is another program where I feel a slight sense of loss; while cloud apps like Aviary do a decent job, they’re just less robust than what I’m used to, and they lack the hotkeys and shortcuts that save me tons of time in my traditional configuration.

For me, I’m finding the tradeoff to be largely worthwhile; I find myself willing to adapt to the cloud apps in exchange for what I gain from Chrome OS. (I also realize that if push comes to shove, I can use Google’s Chrome Remote Desktop feature to remotely utilize Windows-based programs — though outside of basic testing, it isn’t something I’ve done very often.) Depending on your needs and perspective, of course, your mileage may vary.

Chrome OS also requires you to rely primarily on cloud-stored data; if you aren’t comfortable keeping your info on the Web, with services like Gmail, Google Docs, and so forth, the cloud computing concept is definitely not for you.

Conclusion #5: The new Chrome OS devices are no-brainers for anyone using first-gen Chromebooks — and purchases well worth considering for anyone who lives in the cloud and wants a fast computer without the hassles.

No two ways about it: If you have a first-gen Chromebook, you’re going to love the new Chromebook model. It’s everything you like about your current system without the laggy tab-switching and performance limitations. (See this side-by-side comparison video that I posted on Google+ for an illustration.)

If you don’t have a Chrome OS system but do spend a lot of your time in the cloud, meanwhile — relying primarily on Web-based services and storing the bulk of your data online — the new Chrome OS devices are well worth considering.

A lot of people say stuff like: “If you want a system that just runs Chrome, why don’t you buy a Windows laptop and install the Chrome browser? Then it’s the same thing except you can actually run regular desktop programs, too.”

Let me tell you something: Those people are missing the point. Chrome OS isn’t about limiting what you can do; it’s about eliminating the hassles that come with traditional computing. It’s about providing a fast, simple, hassle-free system for people who spend most of their time using the Web and Web-based applications (which, let’s face it, is an increasing number of us in this day and age).

Samsung Chromebook Chrome OSThe big variable, then, is the price: The new Samsung Chromebooks cost $450 for the Wi-Fi version and $550 for a 3G-connected model (which includes 100MB a month of data, no contract required, and the option to get additional data on a pay-as-you-go basis). As I’ve said before, I think those prices are a bit high to attract widespread consumer interest — particularly when you consider the variety of full-fledged Windows notebooks and high-end tablets available in that same range.

That said, I don’t think those prices are rip-offs — far from it. I think you get a lot of value for that money: You get excellent hardware, a lifetime of seamless and automatic software updates, and freedom from costly software purchases (Microsoft Office, anyone?) — not to mention freedom from OS problems and potential tech support expenses down the road. When you consider the overall return on investment and total cost of ownership, it really isn’t a bad deal; it’s just not one that’s going to be immediately eye-catching or an easy sell for the average consumer.

If you’re on board with the cloud computing concept, though, I suspect the new Chromebook — or the $329 desktop-based Chromebox — will make you quite happy.

Some personal perspective

After two weeks of using Google’s evolved Chrome OS on the new Chromebook and Chromebox, personally, I’m sold. I have no doubt that I’ll replace my old first-gen Samsung Chromebook with the new model and use it heavily for portable computing, both around the house and out and about.

What about Android tablets? I still have one — and use it — but to be honest, I find myself reaching for the Chromebook more often lately. The larger screen, outstanding full-size keyboard, and top-notch desktop-like browsing experience just make it an ideal way for me to get online and get stuff done fast. My Chrome extensions give me instant on-screen access to things like my Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Voice accounts. The tablet has its strengths and advantages — that’s for damn sure — but for the bulk of what I do online these days, I’m finding the Chromebook to be a quicker and more effective option and a better all-around complement to my Android phone.

Based on my experiences with the new setup, I’m actually tempted to move even further and embrace Chrome OS as my primary desktop platform, too, by way of the Chromebox. As I mentioned, there are really only a couple of traditional OS programs I found myself missing during my Chrome OS experiment — and the pluses of the platform (including the lack of typical-OS hassles) seem to outweigh their absence. The missing dual-monitor extended-desktop functionality is my biggest sticking point right now; with the way I multitask during the day, I need a second monitor connected to my system. Once that feature arrives, I’m going to take a serious look at making a full desktop migration.

So, in summary: It’s been an interesting two weeks living in the cloud — enough so that I’m thinking about turning my vacation into a permanent residence.

Android Power TwitterDid you miss some parts of my journey? Not to worry: You can time-warp through the full adventure in the box below, all the way from day one through the very end. Chapter to chapter, you’ll find my detailed thoughts and impressions on every part of the Chrome OS experience.

But please: Remain seated with your seatbelt securely fastened. For no particular reason, really. I’ve just always wanted to say that. 

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09 Jun 12 Google’s Chrome OS: The dirty little secret about those new devices

By (@jr_raphael) G+

Google Chrome OS Chromebooks

My first thought when I saw Google’s new Chromebooks was “wow”: We’re finally seeing the hardware horsepower and software improvements Chrome OS needs to succeed.

My second thought was “damn”: They still aren’t getting the pricing right.

Initial appearances aren’t everything, though. It turns out there’s a whole other layer to Google’s Chrome OS reboot, and it’s where the company’s real strategy likely lies.

Google, if you haven’t heard, just unveiled a new series of second-gen notebooks that runs its cloud-centric Chrome OS operating system. There’s the Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 3G model, which costs $550, and the Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 Wi-Fi model, which runs $449.

Google Chrome OS

I’ve been watching Google’s Chrome OS since its limited launch at the end of 2010 (remember the Cr-48, anyone?). It’s hard to emphasize how far Chrome OS has come since that inauspicious debut: Chrome OS has transformed from a shaky and somewhat limited setup into a full-fledged operating system that’s actually quite nice to use — provided, of course, you’re comfortable living online and using cloud-based applications.

Still, for most shoppers, $450 to $550 is a lot to ask for the type of experience Chrome OS provides — especially when you consider the variety of full-fledged Windows 7 notebooks and high-end tablets you can find for the same price. As I concluded when the first Chromebooks came out, the pricing model is Google’s Achilles’ heel with these systems; if they’d make the devices 200 bucks instead of $500, the Chrome OS concept could really take off.

Here’s the dirty little secret, though: Google isn’t going after the individual consumer with its Chrome OS Chromebooks. Not at those prices. Sure, the G-Team will be delighted when an average consumer decides to pick up its product — and for some of us, the value will be worth the cost — but the true target here is almost certainly the world of business and education.

While the $450 to $550 cost may seem steep from a consumer perspective, for businesses and schools, the Chromebook is part of a bigger package. Full support — both hardware warranty and 24-hour phone service — Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550and enterprise management tools are available for $150 per device for businesses and $30 apiece for schools. That’s an eye-catching proposition: thirty dollars per system, with practically no training required and no need to worry about virus protection or labor-intensive software updates (Chrome’s cloud-based setup is inherently safe from viruses, and OS updates are pushed quietly through the cloud with no need for user or admin intervention). 

It’s a big change from the pricing model Google offered with Chrome OS in the past: The first generation of Chromebooks came with monthly fees for business and school accounts — $28 a month per device for businesses and $20 a month for schools. With the new plan, organizations pay only the single flat fee for the lifetime of each device. 

Consider, too, the fact that Google’s enterprise division just rolled out an optional hosted virtualization solution for Chrome OS account holders. That means business and education users can now gain access to services from nGenx that allow full execution of desktop apps through the Web, essentially addressing the most obvious enterprise-level objection to Chrome OS adoption. Google isn’t publicizing the price of the service but says it comes “at a fraction of the price of current virtualization offerings.”

(Google’s Chrome Remote Desktop beta app, meanwhile, allows individual user-based remote access to any Chrome-connected PC at no extra cost.)

Android Power TwitterGoogle has talked about its desire to bring Chrome OS into businesses and schools before. With its new pricing structure, the company’s ultimate goal is becoming crystal clear. For Chromebooks, the price is right — it just isn’t about the average consumer.

SEE ALSO: The Chrome OS experiment: 2 weeks with Google’s new Chrome computers 

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on , Twitter, or Facebook.

Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

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01 Jun 12 The Chrome OS experiment: 2 weeks with Google’s new Chrome computers

By (@jr_raphael) G+

Google Chrome OS

Google’s Chrome OS is an interesting concept: You abandon the notion of a computer containing your world and instead embrace the idea of living on the Web — storing your data online and running your apps from the cloud, all via a simple and easily replaceable machine.

I’ve been intrigued by Chrome OS since its introduction in 2010. I used Google’s Cr-48 test notebook for months and then turned my attention to the first commercial Chromebooks upon their launch last May. After reviewing the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook, I was impressed enough to buy one of my own; I still use it extensively today.

For me, the Chromebook is a tool for travel — I rely on it heavily when heading out on the road, particularly for business-related trips — and also a device for quick computing around the house, away from my desk. Sure, I use an Android tablet, too, but some things are just quicker and simpler in Chrome OS’s stripped down PC-like-environment.

For all their assets, though, Google’s Chromebooks aren’t without their share of problems. Software limitations aside, my biggest beef has been speed: Last year’s models are pretty low-end machines, and it’s all too easy to bog them down by opening too many tabs and windows. While Chrome OS itself is light and speedy, the hardware has thus far held it back.

Google Chrome OS Chromebook, Chromebox

That’s why I was eager to try Google’s newly launched second generation of Chrome devices. Announced this week, the Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 and Samsung Chromebox Series 3 promise to breathe new possibilities into the Chrome OS concept (even if their prices aren’t exactly a breath of fresh air). Of course, Google itself is constantly breathing new possibilities into Chrome OS via its frequent over-the-air software updates — but we’ll get to that more later.

Rather than rushing through a traditional review of the new Chrome OS computers, I thought it’d be interesting to immerse myself in them for a full two weeks and truly get to know what it’s like to live with the devices. I’ll rely on the new Samsung Chromebook and Chromebox for the majority of my computing needs these next several days, and I’ll take you along for the ride — sharing my impressions on everything from the updated hardware to the evolved software and the overall experience of embracing Google’s cloud-centric vision.

Android Power TwitterI’ll check in every couple days with new thoughts and insights (and will continue to cover the Android world in the meantime as well, of course). If there’s anything you want to know about the next-gen Chromebook/Chromebox/Chrome OS experience, just give me a shout: You can leave any questions in the comments on this page, or ping me via social media. My contact info is below.

Welcome to the cloud, my friends. Our journey starts now.     

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on , Twitter, or Facebook.

Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

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30 May 12 Google Chrome OS, Take Two: New Software And Chromebooks

New Chromebook
(click image for larger view)

In conjunction with a Chrome OS update that incorporates a more traditional desktop user interface, Google and its hardware partner Samsung on Tuesday plan to introduce two Chrome OS devices, the Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 and the Samsung Chromebox 3.

The Series 5 550 is an improved Chrome OS notebook. The Chromebox, first mentioned at CES in January and revealed through a TigerDirect online store listing on Friday, is a small desktop Chrome OS computer that requires a separate keyboard, mouse, and display.

“We’re focused a lot on speed because that was one of the things we were not very happy with last year,” said Caesar Sengupta, director of Chrome OS at Google, in a phone interview.

The Series 5 550 ($449/$549 w/3G) features an Intel Core processor, a step up in terms of processing power from the Intel Atom chips in last year’s models. It’s 2.5 times faster on the v8 benchmark than the old Series 5, according to Sengupta.

With a 12.1-inch, 1280 x 800 display, the Series 5 550 weighs 3.3 lbs. and boasts 6 hours of battery life, or 6.5 days in standby mode. It includes 4 GB of RAM, built-in dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Gigabit Ethernet, and a 3G modem option. There’s an HD camera, two USB 2.0 ports, a 4-in-1 memory card slot, and a DisplayPort++ connector that can accommodate HDMI, DVI, or VGA monitors.

[ How big are the stakes for Google? Read Google's Chromebook Gamble. ]

The Series 3 Chromebox ($329) is a small computer akin to the Mac Mini. It scores 3.5x faster than last year’s Chromebook on the v8 benchmark and sports six USB 2.0 ports, 2 DisplayPort++ connectors, DVI single link output, and support for Bluetooth 3.0. Both the Chromebox and Series 5 550 Chromebook now support hardware accelerated graphics, which makes Web page scrolling much quicker and makes the Chrome OS devices more suitable for Web-based games.

The new hardware will be running the latest version of Chrome OS, R19, which offers a much more traditional desktop user interface. Previously, the Chrome browser was locked in place and could not be moved to reveal a desktop below it. Version R19 restores the desktop metaphor by allowing browser windows to be moved and by adding a new app launch and the ability to customize desktop images. It also includes the ability to view Office files, stored locally or on Google Drive. So much for talk that computer users no longer need files.

This shift to a more familiar interface will soon be accompanied by Google Drive integration. Now available through the Chrome OS beta channel, Sengupta says this feature will reach general release in June, around the time of Google IO, the company’s annual developer conference. Google Drive will effectively be the file system for Google’s hardware. It will run offline and online and sync files across other computers, like Macs and PCs, so that the user’s files can be accessed across multiple devices.

In addition, Google plans to release a beta version of Chrome Remote Desktop, which will allow users of Google’s Chrome browser to access remote OS X or Windows computers from any device with Chrome installed.

Sengupta also said that offline editing will be coming to Google Docs in a matter of weeks. He said the feature is presently being tested internally at Google and will be rolled out as soon as it’s ready.

A year ago, Google, Samsung, and Acer launched the first hardware running Chrome OS in an effort to improve the computing experience. While these Chromebooks were available through online retailers, they didn’t sell very much to consumers.

Sengupta didn’t offer specifics about Chromebook usage metrics but made it clear that Google didn’t expect cloud-based computing to become the norm immediately. “Our goal is a fairly long-term one,” he said. “We’re trying to change the world of computing.”

Google plans to expand its Chromebook marketing outreach: In June, expect to start seeing Chrome Zones in select Best Buy stores, where potential customers can test Chrome OS hardware.

But the Chromebook value proposition–easier, more affordable computer management and administration–wasn’t really tailored to appeal to consumers; it was designed to ease the suffering of IT managers by automating chores like system patching.

“We think there’s a lot of promise for Chrome OS in businesses,” said Rajen Sheth, group product manager for Chrome for Business. “We’ve seen a lot of interest in retail for systems in stores, or call centers.”

How much interest? Not enough to disclose sales figures, but enough to have a few noteworthy business customers lined up to test a new way of working. Retailer Dillard’s intends to deploy hundreds of Chromeboxes in about half of its 304 U.S. stores. Education company Kaplan, in conjunction with call center company Genesys, intends to move its New York City call center to online real-time communication protocol WebRTC and Chromeboxes. Mollen Clinics expects to use 4,500 Chromebooks in its mobile immunization clinics in Wal-Mart and Sam’s Clubs locations. And the California State Library intends to distribute 1,000 Chromebooks to libraries around the state for patrons to borrow.

Sheth says that the updated version of Chrome OS and the new Chrome hardware solve a lot of issues that businesses had with the first release. He cites the ability to view Office files and Google Drive integration as examples of changes that will make Chrome OS more palatable to businesses.

The updated hardware also comes with improved features for administrators, such as auto-update controls, auto-enrollment, open-network configuration and additional reporting features.

“When the user get the Chromebooks and logs in, that device knows it’s part of the organization and will automatically configure itself,” said Sheth, adding that this should make Chrome OS devices even more compelling to organizations concerned about total cost of ownership.

“Our biggest goal with the new management functionality is to make it so you can grab a Chromebook of a delivery truck and hand it to a user without the involvement of IT,” said Sheth. “With a PC, that’s not possible. It has to be imaged.”

Perhaps the most compelling feature for businesses is a new pricing model. Google initially offered Chromebooks to businesses under a subscription model. That’s no longer being offered.

“The major feedback we heard from businesses is that they want to be able to purchase once and be done with it,” said Sheth.

The new plan works as follows: After purchasing the hardware, businesses and schools can buy lifetime management and support for $150 and $30, respectively.

The second coming of Chrome OS might just be enough to turn Google’s experiment into a real market. But if not, there’s always next year. “We’re deeply committed to this,” said Sengupta. “It’s a step in the journey.”

At this year’s InformationWeek 500 Conference C-level execs will gather to discuss how they’re rewriting the old IT rulebook and accelerating business execution. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., Sept. 9-11.

05/29/2012: Corrected education pricing.

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