The CR48 and Chrome
I am going to break this down into several sections, firstly looking at the software, probably the most interesting part. Then the hardware which currently is the most useful part of the whole ordeal. Then finally some of the comparisons between other systems.
I have been using the CR48/ChromeOS as my primary laptop for 4 weeks now and over Christmas at my parents as my main computer for 2 weeks. So I have had some time as using it has my computer, with the iPad fulfilling all game and multimedia options. In a nutshell basic browsing, email and sshing to my mac for emacs and alpine. Right before I got the CR48 in the mail, I had sold my MacbookPro since the iPad did most of what I needed and the Macbook had not left the house for over 2 months. I figured it would be a good test for two weeks at my parents and using it has my only web connection. (Used the iPad for anything the CR48 was unsuited to)
The software is cool. Neat, unecumbered and easy to use. Those are all the good things. The fact your data lives on the cloud means the times I accidently trashed it I could simply wipe and restart, within 10 minutes I was up and running. Guest accounts are awesome, I HATE that with the iPad if someone wants to play with it they have access to my email and browser. ChromeOS really leads the way here with how guesting is done and I hope other systems take notice. The fact everything is encrypted so if someone stole my laptop it would be hard for them to get any personal data. The battery also seems to give exceptional life.
If you do not have internet connection it is useless. That fact right there trumps all other issues. Sure some of the HTML5 apps support some form of offline storage but its nuetered, doesn’t feel right or is downright clunky. There are no native apps, nor are there any good media applications installed. The laptop brimming with power becomes something you close, put in the corner and wait for the internet to come back on because in rural KY verizon’s coverage just isn’t enough. Meanwhile the iPad is playing movies, music and games.
Yep this falls under bad….but what?! WHY?! It is chrome, and chrome is excellent. I use it on every system I can put it on. I love the design and minimal features. The fact it just seems to fly. But on the CR48 chrome lags. Here is a simple test. 1. Open a bunch of tabs 2. Before they have stopped loading try to scroll on the one your on. On my system it is so laggy or choppy has to be useless. Sometimes it doesn’t even respond until the others have finally loaded. My workflow is to open a bunch of tabs with ctl click and then sort them out later. This lag totally kills my workflow. The dirty little secret is I loaded Ubuntu on the CR48, installed chrome and am typing this while SSHing into my OSX for emacs, listening to music and chatting on facebook with a bunch of tabs open while researching Markdown script. I noticed very little lag, things seemed to keep moving at a decent pace and the little CR48 seems to handle ubuntu pretty well with all the weight. Now why can it not handle just chrome as well, this question eludes me.
Lack of Remoting
Whenever the remoting feature comes into play this may change significantly. Currently at work I do .Net and Java(Android) work and at my desk is a big decked out dell desktop. When I am in another office I want to just RDP to the dell and do any work remotely. Conversly I have RDP and VNC on my Windows and OSX boxes at work, so whenever I want to connect to them I want that power. With the Ubuntu installation I can no problem. With ChromeOS, at this moment I cannot.
Lack of Native Apps
Part of this goes against the very nature of ChromeOS. But ChromeOS needs native applications, of at least some sort. Let them be connected to the cloud and keep only a subset of data on the device. And make them run in full screen or with the small dialogs at the bottom. Sandbox them in there own DMZ if you must, but ChromeOS needs native applications in the worst way. Steal the base libraries from those Android fellas, along with the basic ideas of the layours but make the whole package keyboard and mouse friendly. Then if you setup a new device you just get the whole shebang of installed applications along with all the assorted chrome apps and extensions.
For example a friend came over, needed to checked email, browsed net, facebooked and paid some bills. Then wanted to watch netflix while I finished up on the computer. I told them they couldn’t, then asked if there were any movies, again I said there were not. At this time she reached for the iPad and used it the rest of the day. Users expect a certain amount of functionality built it.
This is the best “lowend” laptop I have ever used. As far as look and feel it is above even the plastic macbook. This is what a small cheap laptop should be. Not gaudy, 16GB is enough to be usable if it is not your main computer. Processor is decent and 2GB of memory is enough for general usage. The feel of the hardware is the greatest part. When you run your hands over the rubbery surface and the chiclet keys. The screen while not superb is adequate enough. Most importantly it is not guady or out of place. No huge decals saying Intel/Windows/Nvidia/Whatever insider, nor any extra openings or ports. The touchpad is above most non-apple machines and at the price point I assume the this reaches it is great.
Some problems do occur, the VGA port is an unforgivable sin. This is 2010 and DVI should be pretty standard around the land. There is an annoying seem near the front and around the battery where things do not quite meet up. Probably fine for the price point they are trying to hit, but it would have added just a bit of extra polish. Likewise the touchpad is nice but not quite as silky smooth as the macbooks in either feel or actual function.
The iPad is my favorite device I have bought within the past few years. At first I didn’t think it was useful, but after 30 minutes in the apple store I realized that I had to have one. After a few months it replaced my MacbookPro as my mobile computer.
At the heart of the matter the ChromeOS is a better web browser than the iPad, in regards to almost any other functionality the iPad wins.
This is all that really needs to be said here, there are specific applications for almost every imaginable purpose on the iPad, and each one of these is better focused at one task than the chrome generally is.
Here it is a bit closer since some notebooks are crap, and the hardware of ChromeOS just feels so right so it wins in look and feel. I hate netbooks and personally might use ChromeOS over one, but I cannot disregard they are more functional at this time then ChromeOS. That being said I would prefer the ChromeOS over Netbooks since to me Netbooks almost seem disposable, something you use when you value price and lightness over any other attribute. In this case I beleive ChromeOS might be more interesting, perhaps not more powerful. But at least more interestig.
In this case I am talking about the 13-15” Windows/Apple laptop. The problem is that the ChromeOS does not replace this device, given the choice of having a desktop or laptop, most people opt for the laptop. In that case you need the laptop to server as the base, and the ChromeOS loses much of it’s luster. As far as functionality the laptop wins hands down, the ChromeOS brings some interesting concepts but a well tuned Apple laptop overcomes several of these limitations and Windows 7 is a pretty decent OS.
ChromeOS is not the market moving factor Android is.
I do not know how to distill it any smaller. It is neat, and it has some promise but I do not think it has promise to the average consumer that Android did, or that iOS has. Why am I comparing all this effort to Android? Simply because Google has limited resources and I am sure there are some truly great UI experts and guys who could be applying their efforts to Android. Are traditional desktops going to the way of the dodo? No.
On the other hand they are not an emerging market. There are not vast new fortunes to be made no matter how much google will try to push it. No non-geek was even remotely interested in the laptop, the iPad or regular computers were the go to box in my household. The device is a slave to another computer.
- Need to Print? Make sure you have it setup on your windows/osx/linux box with chrome printing enabled.
- Want to Work in a Solid Office Program? Remote into your desktop to run Office or Pages/Numbers.
- Want to store your movies or photoes or music? Again it is mostly on the desktop. Sure you can use something like smug mug but if you want to rename all files, or run a mass conversion your out of luck.
My advice would be to take what you can out of the project and focus on making Android excellent. I work in Android daily and there are tons of places where money should be spent polishing or fixing up things. I am an Apple man myself, but I would switch to Android if there was a better choice.
Sidenote: I wrote most of this article on the CR48 dual booting into Ubuntu, and the experience was great. The hardware does really feel good.