Ah, yes, the much-speculated Google Operating System. Rumors about a possible OS from Google have been floating about for years now, and it seems that Google has finally delivered the cornucopia of computing goodness to your door. Coming soon to a netbook near you: Google’s new operating system. The news is practically flooded with articles about why Google’s fancy new OS is so important and interesting.
I’m here to tell you why it sucks, and why it isn’t really that special at all.
First and foremost, Chrome OS is based on Linux, and Linux has already been out for a long time, with Ubuntu being the most well-known and possibly the most available distribution. What makes Chrome OS different from any other Linux distro? It’s Linux with yet another face, but under the hood it still shares far too much with Linux to be considered its own “operating system.” (Watch for my next post to clarify the difference between a true operating system and what is merely labeled an OS but in fact is more of a “software environment.”) Chrome OS = Linux with another pretty face. End of story. If you want Linux, download Ubuntu or Debian or Fedora or ArchLinux. At least they offer up real applications and a fully featured environment…
Second, Chrome OS suffers from the most serious problem that other “cloud-centric” distributions of Linux are plagued with: the all-too-often wrong assumption that the computer will be connected to the Internet most of the time. The OS is centered around the Chrome browser and the primary apps are online apps, with support for traditional offline apps likely to be minimal. Case in point: gOS, which came with my Sylvania G netbook. The first thing I did was toss out gOS and install something else–anything else– because it was such a nuisance. gOS comes with icons for OpenOffice.org and Firefox, and that’s really about it. Every other “application” seemed to be Internet-enabled. Most of the “applications” were Google, Blogger, Facebook, MySpace, Google Docs, and other garbage that requires a (fast) Internet connection to work. What good is having an ultraportable laptop if you need an Internet connection to use 90% of its functionality? That’s one reason I documented some of the things you can do to get more out of the G netbook, because it actually comes with the majority of the standard GNOME environment, which includes a significant number of games, control panels, applications, and other tools…none of which has an icon in the default installation at all! Chrome OS is doomed to suffer the same fate, because it is nothing more than “gOS reloaded” for all intents and purposes.
FEW PEOPLE WANT TO BE TETHERED TO THE INTERNET WITH THEIR LAPTOPS AT ALL TIMES. LEARN THIS, GENIUSES: INTERNET APPLICATIONS SUCK.
Which brings us to my third point: INTERNET APPLICATIONS SUCK. The ones that don’t suck aren’t Internet applications at all. I don’t know anyone that uses Google Docs, and Google Docs is no replacement for an installation of OpenOffice.org or Microsoft Office. One might be tempted to counter with a mention of the heavily-used Google SketchUp or Google Earth, but the difference is that those are true applications which just happen to be Internet-enabled or come from a site on the Internet. Google Earth uses data pulled from the Internet, and Google Earth totally rocks. Google Docs, though, is sparse on features and not very compatible with other office applications. It is not a viable replacement for a real office package for most people, and it feels like “Microsoft Works lite” in general. Looking beyond Google, we see sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and other “social networking” sites taking longer and longer to load, being plagued by excessive use of widgets, and other serious issues. Contrast this with traditional instant messenger applications and even the ever-hated AOL, which may not be the smallest programs in existence, but provide much better performance, a larger feature set, and better integration with other programs. Internet applications are limited in their implementation and capabilities, as well as by the lack of proper support for industry standards that have been around for a long time now.
What’s very depressing is that I actually see many reputable sites hyping Chrome OS and discussing whether or not it threatens Windows, Linux, Mac OS, or even embedded operating systems. Chrome OS is nothing more than a Linux distribution with a stupid idea behind it, and Google has spent considerable time and money on dumber things (can you say YouTube?) This isn’t like Android, which opened up options in the mobile phone market considerably. This is something targeted at machines that can already do more than Chrome OS can do.