‘Twas a dreary evening, and dozens of developers were dozing off while a dull fellow droned on about HTML5. Yet all of a sudden, a single sentence from a previously inconspicuous Google representative brought a spark to the attendees’ eyes (including those of my father): “Free Chrome OS Laptops!”
With that anecdotal tidbit established, it’s time to take a look at Google’s Chrome OS Laptop, the Cr-48. The Cr-48 is a pre-beta pilot intended to showcase Google’s Chrome OS, an operating system built for those that dwell in the web. Google’s idea of a cloud-centric laptop is novel, but its bare-bones simplification may alienate potential consumers.
Chrome OS: an Overview
As soon as the Cr-48’s lid is opened, Google’s colorful logo paints the screen, and within 15 seconds, the web will be at your fingertips.
If this is your first time starting the device, you will be led through a short set-up process. Creating an account is as simple as logging into your Google account. Indeed, the most time-consuming aspect of setting up your notebook will posing for your profile picture.
What appears to be a Chrome web-browser will fully occupy the screen once the initial set-up is complete. After a desperate search for a “minimize” button, it will dawn upon you that there is none. Chrome OS is essentially, well, Google Chrome. And, according to Google, that’s the beauty of it. Chrome OS thrusts you skyward into the clouds, forcing you to bid farewell to the tangible ground of the traditional operating system.
Google’s hook for its Chrome OS is the ease with which it allows you to access the internet. In order to streamline your web-surfing experience, Chrome OS trims away all the extra fat of the typical operating system. No longer will you need to fret about security and maintenance, as Chrome OS is virtually impervious to security threats and updates automatically. On the off-chance that a virus does penetrate the system, you can simply reinstall the OS; after all, everything is stored in the cloud. By eliminating concerns associated with bulkier operating systems, Chrome OS succeeds in fully immersing you in the web. It doesn’t hurt that the device is relatively speedy: it boots up quickly and awakens from sleep instantaneously.
While Chrome OS bears a striking resemblance to its browser counterpart, it does offer a few additional features. For instance, the OS has a primitive file system and a downloads folder. Currently, Chrome OS purportedly supports .doc, .pdf, .html, and image files; however, I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to open .doc files. Given that Chrome OS is still pre-beta, it’s almost certain that this problem will be resolved.
Other additions to the Chrome skeleton include pop-up chat windows, the ability to take screenshots, and some pre-installed web apps. For the uninitiated, web apps are simply links to urls or “applications”. A select few applications written with HTML5 can be accessed offline.
Underneath Chrome OS GUI is Google’s version of Linux, which can be accessed by flipping a switch in the battery compartment. The next time the device boots up, it will enter developer mode, and pushing “ctrl” + “alt” + “t” will bring up Linux.
Since the Cr-48 is primarily designed to showcase Chrome OS, this entry will only concern itself with hardware tailored specifically for Chrome OS. After all, the Cr-48 will likely never be released as a consumer product.
The chiclet keyboard is a prime example of hardware modified to accommodate software. Keeping with Chrome Os’ trend of simplification, Google has eliminated keys that they deemed to be superfluous. Caps lock has been replaced by a search button that pops up a new tab. In place of the function keys are web-specific keys; highlights include dedicated back and forward keys and a full screen key. And, of course, the PC’s window key has been eliminated completely.
As for the trackpad, let it suffice to say that it often launches the cursor into a berserk, frenzied dance when touched with multiple fingers.
Using the Chrome OS laptop for a few hours has left me unsatisfied. Sure, Chrome OS gives you unfettered access to the internet, but it does so at the cost of sacrificing that which makes a computer compelling; namely, the multitude of functions that it can serve. From a consumerist standpoint, the advantages of Chrome OS over Honeycomb-powered tablets are scant; tablets posses much more functionality than Chrome OS while retaining the same degree of portability.
Nonetheless, Chrome OS laptops may be attractive to the niche group of enterprises whose employees only need to access the web. Chrome OS laptops, with their impenetrable security and automatic updates, would simplify the workspace and relieve employers of the practical and fiscal burdens associated with traditional laptops.
Any potential advantages of the Chrome OS laptop cannot be realized, however, until cloud computing becomes ubiquitous. As of now, the cloud only serves entertainment and lightweight work purposes. Perhaps when cloud computing becomes more widespread, there will be a greater incentive to purchase a Chrome OS laptop and drift off into the clouds. Until then, I prefer to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground.