I don't think I've ever really written about ChromeOS properly before. I've come close to it and I've acknowledge the potential it could have in a future where native apps simply don't need to exist. After using a Chromebook almost exclusively as my main computing device for the past six weeks, I've come to appreciate how far we are from that future, and how unlikely it is that we will get there.
Having said that, there's definitely value in a Chromebook, and ChromeOS at large, especially in the education and corporate spaces (as countless others have devoted many articles covering). Overall, I found using my Chromebook a painless experience. It handled almost everything I threw at it, and in an easier manner than I'm accustomed to with most Linux distributions. Google has got the user experience down near perfectly, which is impressive considering they've worked up from a raw Linux kernel. I'd love to see Ubuntu built in a similar way.
The Chromebook I purchased, the Toshiba CB30-B007, is a 13 inch lightweight laptop, about as light as my Macbook Air, and whilst it's plastic, it is built solidly. I bought it for the sole purpose being able to stay efficiently connected as I travelled around Europe. My main use cases were being able to write longer form articles whilst I was away, to be entertained for long periods of time, and to store and review photos I'd taken on-the-go. Unfortunately, it didn't do all of these really well, which kind of sucks, but it was a good general purpose computer.
I had a minor (and quite annoying) hiccup at the beginning of our relationship, sitting on the plane to Abu Dhabi. I attempted to play episodes of Parks and Recreation only to find that the sound was not being played. Turns out that ChromeOS doesn't support sound on the MKV video format. I believe this was due to the licensing restrictions, and since Google doesn't have the money to purchase licenses..So I was left to contemplate licensing restrictions, browse the onboard entertainment and ended up watching Chicago instead.
I was warned that for my stay in France, the only way to get internet within my residence was through the Ethernet connection, so I had prepared in advanced and purchased a USB-to-Ethernet adapter. I was impressed by how well the Chromebook handled the Belkin adapter. It simply worked like a plug-and-play device, no hassles, no worries. This was surprising given the adapter was bundled with a driver CD (the joys!) that only had software for Windows and Mac OS X. At purchase time, I had visions of myself sitting next to my laptop in France, sobbing away without a reliable and constant network connection. So the fact that it worked was quite nice.
ChromeOS, I have observed, tends to crash around my ears without warning, which is annoying because I lose nearly everything I'm working on. The operating system doesn't seem to have many reliability measures in place, so a tab is just as likely to bring down the entire machine at once as it is to recover. I've also noticed that if I run more than three intensive web applications, it grinds to a halt. Similarly, when performing one of my key use cases - viewing photos - the thing becomes near-unusable. I found that it was easier just giving up, and thus I was simply unable to review the photos I took around the place.
I guess I should be more annoyed about the fact that this Chromebook couldn't handle what should be a simple task,; indeed, it's a terrible design flaw and not even in a particularly compute-intensive application. But I'm generally surprised by how well it did handle other critical tasks, such as long form writing (the keyboard is fantastic, unlike any other netbook I've used ever) and general productivity tools (offline support within web apps these days is quite solid, especially in Google Docs). Perhaps this is a statement more about the context the Chromebook operates in, rather than the experience Google itself has built up. The money that would traditionally be spent on software from vendors can be spent on improving the build quality - seriously, this thing is the most solid sub-$500 laptop I've used. The software experience that can now be delivered through web applications, thanks to developers and web browser vendors (of which Google is one), is significantly better than that of even three years ago.
Moreover, this experience highlighted two things:
- how much one can do with just the internet and web applications and, somewhat more disconcerting
- how much I rely on and am addicted to the internet to do pretty much anything
Of course, these aren't exactly surprising revelations, but ones well worth taking note of for the future. I'm going to try spending some solid time this semester getting some out-of-uni learning into my life, and doing more offline. We'll see if I succeed.