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Google Chrome OS

Earlier this month, when opened up preorders for the first Chrome OS-based Chromebooks, I immediately (perhaps compulsively) ordered a Samsung Series 5 3G unit. And had I not just canceled the order a few days ago, it would have arrived today. My reasoning for the buyer's remorse is simple: I already have a pre-production Cr-48 Chromebook from Google, and that lets me effectively review the shipping version of Chrome OS, albeit on a slightly less impressive machine than the Samsung. And while I do like Chrome OS, for the most part, I just can't personally see owning and using a machine that costs $500--about $150 more than the average (but full-featured and Windows-based) netbook--and is this limited.


Chrome OS is an enigma in many ways. It checks some of the boxes that I think are extremely important in a modern portable device, with instant on performance, killer battery life, integrated wireless networking (both Wi-Fi and 3G), and a stripped down, familiar user experience. But unlike with, say, an iPad, it's unclear if the tradeoffs to the Chrome OS-based systems make a lot of sense for typical consumers. And unlike a typical netbook, you're losing out on a lot of valuable Windows-based functionality.

I just don't know what to make of it.

There's certainly a lot of promise here, and if you're a big consumer of Google services--especially Gmail, Google Calendar, and Picasaweb (photo sharing)--Chrome OS may eventually make a lot of sense. I say "eventually" because Google will improve its services this summer to support offline usage, a key problem with the system today. And I say "may" because, let's face it, anyone can just run Chrome on a Windows-based netbook or notebook. Why limit yourself only to Chrome OS?

I guess the theory here is that Chrome OS will meet the needs of certain people. That a good portion of PC users today simply use only a web browser anyway, to access online email, calendar, and other online services. And that's all they do. The thing is, with Chrome, that's almost literally all you can do. (OK, not really, of course. But the possibilities on Chrome OS, compared to Windows, are of course quite limited.)

I do use Chrome on Windows, so the Chrome OS user experience, such as it is, is familiar. That is, it's literally just a Chrome web browser with a few additional capabilities around a clock, wireless, and battery, notifications and file system access, the ability to "pin" frequently used web sites to the browser as permanent mini tabs, and some extra settings. Chromebooks also offers ways to perform familiar laptop actions, like raise and lower the screen brightness and volume, and perform window management tasks like go full screen and access different side-by-side workspaces.

Oddly enough, however, Chrome OS also offers a less full-featured Chrome browser than is available in Windows. You can't, for example, run the browser in windowed (non-full screen) mode, or create web shortcuts that look and act like real Windows applications. Coupled with the lack of other native Windows features, not the least of which is the availability of native, full-featured, rich Windows applications, this seems curious.

I mentioned offline, right? Let me mention it again. If you can't get online, the Chromebook you're using to run Chrome OS is a $500 paperweight. You can't even write a plain text note on the thing.

Until ChromeOS gains offline capabilities, this OS is half baked. And until the Chromebooks on which it runs come down in price, those devices are simply too expensive for what you get. Ultimately, ChromeOS is a solution that makes a lot of sense for Google, but not necessarily a lot of sense for users. As the old adage goes, "when you make hammers, everything looks like a nail." And when you're Google, everything looks like the web. Which is just fine, but only when you can get online. I see the potential, but this one just isn't ready for mainstream use yet.

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