Sunday, 2 February 2014

What is Chrome OS? Should I get a Chromebook?

File:Google Chrome icon and wordmark (2011).svg

Nowadays, people spend most of their time on their computers accessing the internet in their web browsers. Increasingly, our data is shifting to the cloud. Users now use webmail services like Gmail for their email needs, store files on Google Drive, and create documents on Google Docs; which have replaced the function of former desktop-based applications like Microsoft Office, Outlook, etc. There is no longer a need to worry if our computer fails; since we have all our data in the cloud, which we can access from anywhere, anytime. This questioned the relevance of bulky operating systems like Windows and Mac OS in the modern world.

In 2009, Google introduced the idea of Chrome OS, a new simple, light and fast operating system that focuses on your browser and is based on the cloud. There are no desktop applications of any sort. All you have is Chrome, which is the web browser used by majority today. I would consider that to be an advantage because traditional computers, with amazing processing power become slow over time as applications are installed.

With Chrome OS, when you boot your computer, the computer has nothing else to care about except your browser. This leads to mind blowing and never seen before boot up and shut down timings, and your computer doesn't slow down over time. This, at the same time, also eliminates the need to have massive processing power and other high-end specs, since most of the processing work is done in the cloud, and your computer is acting only as a gateway to your data.

On the issue of battery life, since there are no extra applications, Chrome OS offers great all day reliable battery life so that you don't need to keep looking for a power socket.

The best selling point of Chrome OS, which I agree with a lot, is its simplicity. When I got my new Chromebook, I was up and running in no time. I didn't have to go through any complicated settings or driver installation or software downloading.

As soon as I logged into my Gmail account, all my previous bookmarks, extensions, etc. started syncing with my computer. I set up my Chromebook in under a minute and I could start browsing instantly. Chrome OS has no complicated settings, everything is very simple and straight-forward. Since there are no local applications on Chrome OS, one can manage with even a 16GB SSD that really improves the speed.

I also really love the elegance of the design of Chrome OS. It is really very beautiful.

So, is Chromebook right for you?
Since its introduction, one thing has been very clear about Chrome OS, that it won't be able to run traditional desktop applications. However, there are numerous workarounds available. You can always switch to cloud equivalents of the application you use.

But, if you have dependence on power applications like Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Premiere Pro, etc.), then Chrome OS might not be for you. Also, if you have an Apple device like an iPad, iPhone or an iPod, keep in mind that you won't be able to sync it, since you can't install iTunes on Chrome OS.

For casual gamers, Chrome Web Store offers loads of amazing games, but its obvious that you can't look at Chromebook for serious gaming. Chrome Web Store also offers many replacements for traditional desktops apps.

An challenge with Chrome OS is that you can't use a traditional printer by just simply plugging in it; since you can't install the drivers for it to work. However, Google has a service called "Google Cloud Print" using which you can print via a Google Cloud-ready printer, which you need to buy if you don't have one. A workaround without spending money is that you can use Cloud Print to connect a separate traditional computer to your printer and then send commands from your Chromebook. But that computer needs to be continuously up and running when you want to print.

In a few words, if you are a basic user, who only works on the internet, Chromebook OS is great for you. However, in the cases listed above, Chrome OS can still work great as a secondary computer for internet tasks. On the other hand, its also true that offline abilities of Chrome OS are limited, but many apps are available on the Chrome Web Store that work offline.

Privacy & Security Concerns
It has also been noted that the idea of storing all your data on the cloud terrorizes some people. I'd agree with that, because one can achieve full privacy only if one has full management and access control over his or her data. With your data on the cloud, your data is always vulnerable, since you have a very weak link with your data and no physical access to it. This data can be used against you.

But there is nothing much one can do, there are always risk involved in almost everything. All we can do is to depend on the goodwill of Google and its security protocols. In past Google has rather had a good privacy record, so we can hope that this continues in the future as well.

Otherwise, Chrome OS includes advanced safety features like sandboxing and verified boots which will protect you from security risks.

My Experience with Chrome OS
Initially, I was very reluctant to buy a Chromebook running Chrome OS. I underestimated its potential, was conservative and thought that it wasn't possible to proceed without basic desktop applications like MS Office on which I relied. But when I gave Chrome OS a try, I was really amazed when I came to know what it is capable of. I started using the cloud version of MS Office, Skydrive, available for free, and I also found many workarounds for other desktop applications. I switched from a Windows 7 Toshiba laptop, which was very slow and used to take ages to boot; and since then I never looked back. I am really satisfied with a Chromebook. I would definitely choose a Chromebook over a Windows machine for web use.

Basically, if you are switching to Chrome OS as a primary computer, you might face many challenges, yet there are many workaround for the same if you are dependent on certain desktop applications. But the future is the cloud; the more sooner you get on the cloud, the better.

I think that Chrome OS really deserves a try.