Yesterday, after looking around Google’s Chrome OS, I felt exactly the way I felt when I got an invite to preview Google’s other big launch this year, Google Wave — underwhelmed. Chrome OS is a work in progress and there’s a long way to go yet, but as of now, it’s little more than a glorified web browser.
I downloaded on of the many Chrome OS torrents available and loaded it using Sun’s Virtualbox. (Techcrunch has a great article on how to do this.) I timed it at 11 seconds to boot up, and it will obviously be much faster when it’s not being loaded through a virtual machine.
I was asked to log in to my Google account once the OS boots up. Strangely enough, the mouse seemed to be disabled in this login screen, and shift-tab to move back from password field to username too didn’t seem to work when I accidentally typed the wrong username. (Anyone else seen the same problem?)
Once signed in, it opened the Chrome browser straight away, and quite helpfully, opened Gmail and Google calendar for me. No complaints there; Gmail is usually the first thing I check after switching on my computer.
The Chrome OS is just the Chrome browser running on top of a linux kernel; there’s nothing in it apart from the browser. There is an app menu that displays the available apps (all web based, to be accessed on the cloud) and that’s the closest Chrome gets to having a desktop screen comparable to one in a conventional OS.
Google Chrome OS is without doubt a great idea, but the way the OS depends on the cloud could render it useless in some conditions. Netbooks are mainly used for accessing the web, but they should be able to function even when there is no internet connection.
For instance, let’s take the case where I want to give a powerpoint presentation. Let’s assume I am one of those who live exclusively on the cloud, and create the presentation on Google Docs. I turn up for the presentation with my shiny Chrome OS netbook and — bam — internet connection suddenly dies. Bummer! I should have know Murphy’s law was lurking around the corner and now I wish I had OpenOffice or Word and a local copy of the presentation with me.
No matter how far we move into the cloud, I would still expect an OS to contain some apps that work even without an internet connection. Offline features are supposedly on their way, so it’s likely that the OS will have some offline applications available when it hits the market. With Google Gears, and also HTML5 having offline features, we might soon see Google Docs working on it even without an internet connection (and hopefully able to save files locally ad sync them later).
Like I mentioned before, Chrome OS is a work in progress and it’s not fair to judge it in it’s current form. I’m expecting great things from Google here, but haven’t been convinced so far that this could be a better alternative to Windows XP on netbooks.
Have you tried the Chrome OS yet? Do you think Google can really hope to grab a chunk of this market with an OS whose only major advantage is that it boots up incredibly fast? If you were to buy a netbook, which OS would you prefer?