21 November, 2009

Google Chrome OS - First Impressions (or should I say, Disappointments!)

An early prototype of the much awaited Google Chrome OS was released a couple of days back, and as expected of any product announcement from Google, everyone in the tech world was excited, including me. This is a very early version of the Operating System, and the initial demo wasn't that impressive, but I wanted to have a go at it. Following TechCrunch's simple guide to install Chrome OS on a virtual machine, I loaded it up yesterday in VirtualBox.

The boot time of 7 seconds was indeed quite a feat (the intend to halve that by next year!), and I had no problems logging in with a Gmail/Google account (Warning: don't use your primary Gmail address if you intend to try it out yourself. Its a prototype, after all.). Chromium browser (the open-source counterpart of Google Chrome) loaded up, with a few changes to the UI to make it handle some things that traditional OSes have dealt with as a separate affair, like options to turn networks on & off, a rudimentary digital clock and a battery monitor.

Here is what's different (or rather, missing) in ChromeOS, compared to Windows, Linux et al. :
  • Cannot install applications; all applications are web services (websites)
  • Need Internet connectivity to even login, as ChromeOS uses your Gmail account for login and the app panel (its version of 'Quick-Launch' in Windows, and is like a tab inside the browser - but its not). Furthermore, as all apps are web apps, you can't do zilch without a decent net connection.
  • Does not (and will not) support existing desktops/ laptops/ netbooks/ smartphones, and requires specialized hardware designed specifically to run ChromeOS. If you want to run it somewhere other than a virtual machine, you need to wait for year for ChromeOS to be released as pre-installed OS on specialized netbooks with solid state hard drives (SSDs). ChromeOS is free, but the netbooks surely won't be.
  • There are no options to log out, shut down or restart, except using the power button. I guess logout is not really needed, all you have to do is logout of your browser session. But come on, a simple shut down button?
On the plus side, you'll never need to update anything - everything is stored online, including your data & customizations/settings, and you can access your data and programs from anywhere in the world, provided you have a stable connection to the net. For example, the app panel required a google.com login when I tried it out yesterday. But when I opened up the OS today, they had switched it to a regular google account, which meant that I could login with my Gmail username and password instead. To update the UI, all they have to do is change it at the server, and all users will instantly be upgraded to the latest version.

Some other things I noticed:
  • The file manager, accessible through the browser's open/save dialogues, is a chrome-less window, and reveals the Linux file system, on which it is based.
  • No desktop, no icons. Well, there is the app panel. None outside the browser - which is the OS, by the way. Technically, no other OSes have icons or wallpapers outside the OS, so its a moot point. Its a new way to look at it. (Saying 'paradigm shift' is such a cliché :p )
  • If you close the last tab (the app panel is not really a tab, so it doesn't count), the whole browser restarts, reopening the closed tab.
Its UI is also very choppy. I had given 1GB RAM to the virtual machine, with 128MB of video memory. But then, my hard disk is not an SSD, and the OS is not even at beta stage.

What I don't understand is, when you have free OSes like Ubuntu which works on every computer (at least every one of the dozen or so I've tried on), and features like hibernate which can reduce the need for a restart/boot to the rare occasions of a kernel/system update, what exactly is the need for such an OS? They are polished (unlike ChromeOS, in its current state), works with a huge number of devices (unlike ChromeOS), can be installed on any computer used today (unlike ChromeOS), and can choose from tens of thousands of applications to be installed on them, taking advantage of the local processing power.

If you can suggest a valid reason why I should use this OS, please, enlighten me in the comments.

No comments:

Post a Comment