Nikhil SubramaniamAug 06, 2014 13:37:56 IST
Chrome OS has well and truly arrived in India with a bunch of notebook options, an all-in-one launched last week and now the Chromebox series brought today by Asus. But what is Chrome OS and is it good enough to replace Windows on your daily driver PC?
Just like Chrome browser
The first thing you have to know is that if you have been using Chrome as your primary browser, then Chrome OS presents literally no learning curve. Most apps open within the browser window, though now you will also find a selection of out-of-browser apps. Google built Chrome OS to be an extension of your web-surfing activity.
A lot of users just use a PC as a portal to the Internet and a Chromebook fulfils this need with great aplomb.
Signing in with your Google account will give you instant access to your Gmail, Drive, Docs, Music, YouTube and every other Google service that you use. In fact, your Chrome browser apps will also be transferred like on any PC.
The taskbar in Chrome OS comes with an app shelf that contains all the apps and it’s similar to the Android app drawer. Google has preset a bunch of shortcuts for the first time you boot up the system.
Apps for most needs
Apps are available through the Chrome Web Store and there is a dedicated section for the out-of-browser apps, which have been a recent addition to the OS.
Even some core Google apps such as Keep and Hangouts works outside the browser, which improves user experience greatly. Other out-of-browser apps include photo-editing tools such as Pixlr and Google+ Photos, reminder and note-taking apps WorkFlowy, Any.do, Wunderlist, UberConference for teleconferencing, VNC Viewer for remote controlling another system, Gliffy and LucidChart for making graphs, diagrams etc. Then there are apps such as Magisto, Exfm, Plex, Booktrack that take care of your entertainment needs. Your basics are more than well-covered with the initial bunch and no doubt more will follow.
Google has tied-up recently with Citrix, a company that will help bring some Windows apps to Chrome OS. This is primarily for business users and through the Citrix XenApp virtual app delivery solution and Citrix Receiver for HTML5, which together would enable businesses to provide employees with the same software that they have so far been using on Windows, but on a Chrome OS machine. This vastly improves the applications of Chromebooks, while also paving the way for future compatibility with Windows apps through virtualisation software.
More functionality is coming, such as better integration with Android, including the ability to run some Android apps. So the app selection will improve vastly.
Is it a Windows replacement?
Not even close yet.
Chromebooks typically have 16GB of storage, requiring you to carry a portable hard drive if you have a lot of data. Of course, Google gives users 2 years of cloud storage up to 100 GB for free, but that’s’ only great if you are connected.
Thankfully, users can take a lot of their Google data offline for access on the move without Internet. Gmail, Drive, Docs, Sheets and lot of other apps have offline functionality. Recently, Chrome OS got a dedicated Play Movies and TV app that lets you take your movies offline too, provided you have enough storage.
As for games, you can forget about high-end games that require big graphics power. There just aren’t any in the app store, but you do get a bunch of casual games that are great for killing time. Entanglement is one we recommend. You will not also find a selection of music players or video players, or even browsers for Chrome OS. So yes, there are still a lot of pitfalls, which will hopefully be cleared along the way.
Then why should I get one?
As we pointed out in our review of the Acer C720, the question Google is asking with Chrome OS is ‘What do you use your computer for?’
If the answer is web surfing, using office software such as Word and Excel, and playing some basic casual games, then the Chromebook cannot be recommended enough. It’s light-weight, offers great value and has very good battery life. It also has the best integration on any platform for Google services (no surprises there), so if you are already living a Google life online, then Chromebook will fit in perfectly.
But a lot of users won’t find Chromebooks up to their standards. Video editing, graphic design, and other such intensive tasks require better hardware, specialised software, which Windows and OS X have plenty of. Yes, you will get basic tools for photo editing through the app store, but nothing like Photoshop’s great set of tools that are available on rival platforms. That’s the biggest downfall of Chrome OS.
Professionals who are so at home with Windows and OS X machines will find Chrome OS highly light-weight and lacking any real meaning. For them it’s more of an enthusiast PC that just lets your surf and run a few basic apps.
Interestingly, that’s also the biggest draw for Chrome OS. It’s great at what it’s built to do, but not much more.
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