The browser has become pretty much what it was intended to be — the gateway to the rest of the world. Whether it is about staying connected with your friends and family through Facebook or Google Plus, communicating with colleagues over webmail, reading news, or watching movies, the browser is the very foundation on top of which we build our social presence. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, Google+, etc. are all just websites.
Serious writers (including yours truly) use Google Docs to create stories; in some cases it’s more reliable than using a local text editor as you don’t have to worry about keep hitting save for fear of losing your story.
When I look at my PC, I realize that I have this big, expensive, ‘multi-purpose’ machine sitting there doing pretty much just one thing – running a browser. So why not have a machine that does just one thing and does it well — a machine where the OS is optimized to run a browser without all the bells and whistles hogging the resources.
Enter Chrome OS: An operating system tuned and tweaked to run browser-based services. My first experience with ChromeOS was though Google’s CR48 device, which was targeted at developers and Google was kind enough to give me a unit for testing.
My initial experience with the device was mixed — as those were the very early days of Chrome OS. But when ChromeOS devices started arriving to the market, we got a Samsung Chromebook. I gave it to my wife to see how an average user would deal with such a device.
She had been an Apple Macbook user who was converted to Ubuntu Linux before I handed her the Chromebook. What surprised me the most was the support calls I would get from her dropped to zero. On Mac or Ubuntu she would often ping me complaining about something not working, but with Chromebook that changed dramatically.
The reason is simple: There is nothing that can go wrong with a Chromebook.
Chrome OS is based on Gentoo Linux designed to run web and desktop applications. One of the greatest advantages of Chrome OS over any other OS is that you are always running the latest version.
The way it works is there are two copies (A and B) of Chrome OS installed on your Chrome device. At any given time, a user is running either A or B and if there are updates they will be installed on the other OS in the background. When you reboot your system, Google will boot you into the copy of the OS that was most recently updated. This way a Chrome device cycles between the OSes, keeping users always up to date.
Initially, Chrome devices were meant to run only web services through glorified bookmarks called Chrome Apps. Later, Google started offering so-called packaged applications that are installed on the device and can run offline. Recently Google started bringing the two cousins — Android and Chrome OS — together. So now you can run Android apps on Chrome devices, expanding the availability of apps and services for the device.
Who is it for?
If you are someone who spends a majority of your life inside a browser there is just no need for you to buy a $1000+ PC. You can get a decent Chrome device for under $250. Now the bigger question is what is it good for?
I do most of my writing in Google Docs without having to worry about losing the changes or moving the files around, so I can work on it from the device I am on. It doesn’t really matter if I am on Chromebook, Macbook, Linux PC, iPad or Android. I am able to work on my stories from any of these devices through Google Docs.
I also do a great deal of work on text editors and there are many neat text editors for Chrome OS, most notable among them is Caret, which offers an experience similar to that of Sublime Text Editor.
I use Google Hangouts to make calls to family and friends in India and Chromebook works great with it.
Though I have Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick, I really don’t watch much TV on my computer. However, my 29 month old son watches Monster Trucks, Handy Manny and Curious George videos and Chromebook comes in handy for the job.
There are quite a lot of image editors for Chrome devices, Pixlr is a good one among them. I do wish Google would separate Nik Software from Google Plus and develop it as an independent image editor.
There are some basic audio and video editors for Chromebook that will help you to create home videos.
The only thing that is still keeping me from being hooked to my Chromebook is video and photo editing. I shoot a lot of videos and images and use Adobe’s suite to process my work because there are no applications for ChromeOS that can handle professional grade image and video editing. But this is a temporary limitation: Google and Adobe are working to bring Photoshop to Chromebook.
If you are someone whose basic computing needs are similar to mine, Chrome OS is the perfect OS for you. There is no need to throw your money at expensive laptops or PCs. There is no need to worry about updating your system every 6 months. There is no need to worry about viruses or malware. There is no need to worry about losing data if your machine breaks because everything is safe in the cloud.
Looking at the usage pattern of my wife (my stand-in for an average user), I can safely say that a majority of users out there don’t need Macs or Windows PCs, and they will be much happier with a Chrome device.
If you have been considering buying one, this is the right time.