No matter how much I liked the Hardware of the CR-48, I must focus my attention on the software. Chrome OS could be the next big thing if you ask Google, but is it practical enough to live up to everyday use?
Setting up Chrome OS for the first time is dead simple. If you have a Google account, simply enter it. If you don’t (but I’m sure you do), there is a simple prompt to make one. After you login, you get to take a picture for the account. This is a great personalization feature except for one thing; once you have it, you can’t change it. The picture you choose for your user account is permanent, as Google has not provided a setting to change it. Google told me that the only way to do this is to delete the account and start over, which really is not as big of a deal as you think.
The User Accounts in Chrome OS are different than traditional operating systems in that they are merely accounts associated with your Google Accounts, with no data being stored within them. If you use Google Chrome as your browser, Chrome OS can pull your Chrome Sync data to the OS and that means you can easily sync Chrome OS with your desktop, including themes, favorites, passwords and apps. This is extremely useful, as my iMac and the CR-48 were always identical, with sync working both ways. In Chrome OS, there is a guest account as well that does not require a Google login name. It functions as a normal account would, except destroys all data on logout.
Applications and Themes
Applications are where things get real different with Chrome OS. There are no local applications in the OS except for the main Chrome Browser. The “Apps” are merely links to web sites, with the occasional web based app (TweetDeck has a browser based application that is quite nice). If you’re an iOS user, Apps are much like what happens when you save a website to your Home Screen in iOS 2.x + . The Chrome App store is not specific to Chrome OS, but the browser as a whole. This means there will be more apps available to download, but so far there are none with Chrome OS specific features. Themes for Chrome Browser are useable in Chrome OS, but mainly don’t work as intended as they rely on Windows Aero or Mac Cocoa.
Customization in Chrome OS is almost non-existent. You have the above-mentioned themes, and you can toggle the favorites bar, but that is about it. I am sure this will change as things progress, but right now it is what you see is what you get.
Browsing and Stability
The web browsing in Chrome OS is identical to the Chrome experience in Mac or Windows. Websites load quickly, with only the occasional site complaining about the browser you’re running. Flash works ok, with just as many crashes and slow downs that we see in Mac and Windows. Tabs in Chrome OS are independent processes (just like in the browser), meaning if one page crashes, your browser doesn’t go down with it. In terms of stability, Chrome OS is extremely stable. Crashes are few and far between, with most of them happening on startup when Chrome is trying to bring back your tabs from the last session.
Speed and Performance (and Netflix)
Chrome OS is fast. Boot up takes about 15 seconds, with most time devoted to loading the pages from last session. Getting to the login screen takes about 5 seconds. Playing YouTube videos and watching Hulu work well, but can bog down on the Single Core Atom processor that the CR-48 is equipped with. There is no Netflix support right now, which you can call up Microsoft and thank them for. Silverlight has no Linux client (Chrome OS’s kernel is Linux), and I would think the ball is in Netflix’s court to get something worked out. It’s a feature some will miss, but is surely no deal breaker.
Thoughts and Opinions
To be honest, I took the Chrome Notebook on a road trip to Boston and it was perfect for everything I needed. I was frustrated however when my Droid Pro ran out of battery and I wanted to listen to music. I was browsing on the free 100MB Verizon 3G and had no local music. This was the only instance in which I missed local storage, and I assume Google will eventually implement some way to at least insert a flash drive full of music to listen too. Everything worked smoothly on the road, and it was apparent this was the true aim of Chrome OS and the CR-48. You could use this notebook at the office, but there are some drawbacks that are not so obvious. Google has a Web Printing service that allows you to turn your printer into a Web Printer, but it requires extra software and if you have Linux or Mac you are out of luck. You will miss having a dedicated email client if you are using Outlook or any other corporate services. Also, you are limited to some basic word processing and spreadsheeting with Google Docs. With these lack of features, it is apparent that Chrome OS is not intended to be a main operating system, but instead a complement to your computing life in Mac or Windows (Or Linux).
In the end, Chrome OS surprised me in every way. The concept in my head seemed convoluted and stupid, but its implementation suits its purpose perfectly. Its fast, stable and simple. Its reliance on the web is not too much of a hindernce, because the web offers so much. Hopefully some more creative apps will come out, but that will just be a cherry on top. Chrome OS is the next generation of mobile computing and you can hold me to this statement; Chrome OS will become the main Netbook OS within a year of its release.