Shubham AgarwalSep 16, 2019 16:04:34 IST
I’ve been a Mac user for nearly half a decade and a Windows one for seasons before that. But over the past few years, a new desktop operating system has crept into my life. Last week, that OS replaced macOS for me.
I’m talking about Chrome OS, Google’s ambitious take on computers that centres predominantly around the Chrome browser and runs Android apps.
I bought a Chromebook in early 2016 — when Chrome OS was essentially just a web browser packaged with a few desktop features — as my travel workstation. But as my MacBook Pro died a little while ago, I had a decision to make: I could either risk investing in Apple’s flawed MacBook Air (Review) or buy HP’s new Chromebook x360 and switch to Chrome OS from macOS.
I chose the latter and as I type this article on my HP Chromebook x360, I couldn’t be happier.
The switch wasn’t convincing at first. After all, macOS and Chrome OS are still vastly divergent operating systems. A Chromebook has served me well for years as a secondary computer and tablet, but was it powerful enough for me to take to work every day? Will its restrictions force me to adjust and hamper my productivity?
I was able to put the skepticism to rest when I considered my workflow. I live in a web browser. I stream music on YouTube Music (which doesn’t have a native desktop app), write on Google Docs, and binge-watch shows on Netflix. Except for Finder and Google Chrome itself, all the apps on my MacBook’s dock were progressive web apps. Of my MacBook’s 128GB storage, I had only consumed 40 gigs. The answer was largely straightforward.
It’s easy to dismiss Chrome OS due to its upfront limitations. But while Chromebooks still don’t have the same collection of desktop-grade apps or features as Windows or macOS, that honestly doesn’t matter anymore for the majority of people. Most of our lives and work are deeply reliant on the web, and Chromebooks are the ideal machines for that. I can barely remember the last time I used my computer without an internet connection.
Ready for Primetime
More importantly, Chrome OS has evolved far beyond what it originally set out to be and has come a long way itself. After countless updates, I’m glad to report it’s now at a stage where I can employ it for ten hours a day and don’t feel the need to reach out for a Mac.
Today, Chrome OS can run most Android apps and multitask between them and regular Chrome windows. On top of that, Google has brought Linux support, enabling developers to take advantage of a traditional terminal and tools. Even if you’re in the tablet mode, you can pin two windows side-by-side and operate on them in parallel. With these additions, Google has nearly blurred the lines that earlier separated Chrome OS from the desktop operating systems that people have known since forever.
One of the highlights of Chrome OS for me is that Google has built a desktop platform and appended tablet capabilities over that instead of the other way around. Chromebooks won’t force you to go through a steep learning curve. Android and Linux apps are there when you need them. Otherwise, you have the option to switch them off.
There are a few other Chrome OS features I’ve grown accustomed to as well. The file manager integrates natively with cloud services. So you can have your local files under one tab and your Google Drive library in another. In addition, you can expand a Chromebooks’ storage with a MicroSD card, save offline content through Android apps, and there’s a dedicated Search key on the keyboard which allows you to instantly fire up a universal search or Google Assistant. Heck, it only took me a minute to pair a printer wirelessly through Google Cloud Print.
Where Chrome OS falls short
The shift wasn’t perfect, of course. Chrome OS still has a handful of glaring shortcomings Google needs to soon address.
For starters, since most Android apps are not tuned to keyboard and mouse inputs, they often don’t function as intended. Even Google’s offerings like YouTube Music are not yet updated for Chromebooks. The cursor, for instance, often disappears on Android apps leaving you to resort to the touchscreen.
Surprisingly, I didn’t miss high-end Mac apps like Lightroom as much as I thought I would. The mobile counterparts were sufficient for me. That won’t be true for everyone. Chromebooks are, by no means, for people who depend on desktop-exclusive software such as Final Cut.
And that is Chrome OS’ bottom line. It’s a natural extension to most people’s workflow. But it still can’t do a small percentage of computing tasks. If that bothers you or is an essential element of what you do on your computer, a Chromebook won’t do the trick for you. What I have discovered in the transition is that I don’t need the entire feature-set of those apps — their mobile or Android clients are plenty for my use.
You should also know that the fact that Chromebooks need to be always connected to the cloud is a misconception. When you are not online, you can take advantage of Android/Linux apps, and a range of web apps can function offline, including Google’s productivity suite. Besides, when are we ever not connected?
In case you do decide to switch to a Chromebook, I can assure you it won’t slow down for ages. The $200 Asus Flip I owned before the HP Chromebook x360 still doesn’t skip a beat while managing numerous Chrome tabs, consistently receives the latest updates, and boots up in a second. The only reason I bought a new one is I wanted a bigger screen. And hey, it doesn’t hurt to save Rs 60,000.
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