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Chrome OS: A Desktop Replacement for Casual Users

Chrome OS: What is it?

Note: This article has had minor updates to keep it relevant over the years.

Chrome OS: What is it?

While Google is busy conquering the world with its army of Android handsets and tablets, another battle has taken place on the desktops of millions of PCs. This battle, which many call the “Browser Wars”, resulted in one undisputed winner — the Google Chrome Browser with a whopping 42.68% (June 2013) global market share.

The Chrome browser was introduced by Google five years ago, in 2008, and it immediately disrupted the ongoing head-to-head battle between Internet Explorer (the most popular browser back then) and Mozilla Firefox, a browser made from the remains of the now-very-dead Netscape browser. And since then, Chrome has been sitting comfortably in homes across the globe thanks to its almost 20% market share lead against Internet Explorer.

Image Source: Stat Counter

And it’s precisely this domination that led us to conclude that Google recognises Chrome’s potential, which is why Chrome OS exists in the first place. Why else would a company put such immense efforts into two highly different operating systems — Chrome OS and Android — otherwise? This led many to speculate that the two operating systems would merge eventually.

Convergenceon the Horizon?

Google’s ex-CEO Eric Schmidt also publicly said that convergence would be the two operating systems’ eventual fate, but he later came out to assure the public that the two operating systems would “remain separate for a very, very long time.”

However, despite what Schmidt says, there are also signs that the two operating systems might eventually merge into a mega mobile operating system. Andy Rubin, previously in charge of Android, has left the care of Android to Sundar Pichai. Sundar then became the senior vice president for Android, Chrome and Google Apps. And since he’s in charge of all three, he might find it hard to prevent any crossover from either side later down the road, or he might be better equipped to prevent such a scenario from happening.

Image Source: Google

In any case,Chrome OS is chugging along at a slow comfortable pace, with no real target in sight. After all, it's pretty much a browser-oriented operating system that requires connectivity to accomplish anything.It was just launched in Singapore, together with three different notebook bodies made by Samsung, Acer, and HP at fairly affordable prices. Before you rush out to get yourself one of these affordable, cheerful Chromebooks, you must know what it's capable of.

The Chrome Operating System

The most important feature to remember about Chrome OSis that it works best only when it’s connected to the web. If you cannot maintain a constant web connection and you expect to have periods of offline usage, you might want to consider a standard notebook that runs a full-fledged Windows or Mac OS instead with full-fat standard applications to augment your usage needs.

Google's flagship Chromebook is built like an Ultrabook but runs Chrome OS.

On the other hand, if you see yourself constantly connected to the web, and would like to use your system mostly to surf and access services off the web, then the Chromebook is custom-built to fit into your life. That’s because the Chrome OS is very much a browser at heartand very similar to the Chrome browser that most of us are used to, so it hasa negligiblelearning curve. The Chrome OS is kind of like a browser built with file management capabilities,and compatible with various USB accessories to extend the usability of the browser with notebook-like capabilities than a standard Anrdoid-based tablet.

Apps built for the Chrome browser over the past few years are 100% compatible with Chrome OS, which gives it an advantage right out of the box. All you have to do is to log in to your account, and everything — apps, bookmarks, extensions, passwords, etc. — you have setup to sync between Chrome browsers will be there waiting for you to use just as if you've never left using your previous browsing session after you log on. Here's our video overview of the Chrome OS as we tinkered with one of the first Chromebooks available locally:-

Current Issues with Chrome OS

The downside here is that there aren’t many apps available in Chrome since it’s not as easy to monetize as Android is. However, since it’s a browser, any and every web service or web app is immediately available and accessible on Chrome OS.

We also found that almost everything you need to do can be done with the apps already in the Chrome store or apps that are built into Chrome OS. There are also plenty of web/cloud services already available online. We've compiled a list of essential apps that can help you get started on using Chrome OS (or Chromebooks) in the later pages.

There are only a handful of games available on the Chrome Web Store, much less than what the Google Play Store has. But then again, there's always Angry Birds to save you from boredom. It's even available offline so you can play it when you're travelling with no access to the web.

Another critical area where Chrome OS is different from your run-of-the-mill operating system is you’ll find that almost every app in Chrome OS requires you to be connected to the web. These apps are built to live in the cloud, and not your system. While there are some offline apps available, it detracts from Chrome OS’s real purpose — to get you living off cloud services only.

While this means thatChromebooks are generally cheaper (or start off from more affordable price points), it’s only useful in countries (or places) where a stable web connection is not an issue.

Chrome Web Store contains apps, extensions and themes for Chrome OS or Chrome browser. However, there aren't as many apps here as in the Google Play Store, and most of these apps require a web connection to work.

Another major issue encountered while using the Chromebookis that it might not be compatible with all your other devices.This means that you won't be able to manage your other devices at very complex levels with just a Chromebook. Many of our modern devices, like phones and tablets, offer powerful over-the-air management methods, so you might not need to engage your devices with a PC.Power users, however, will always need a Windows or Mac PC to tinker with their other devices.

It’s For Casual Users

For now, it’s positioned to be an affordable secondary machine for users with their fair share of gadgets from tablets, handsets and even desktops. However, that doesn’t mean Chrome OS isn’t powerful enough to become the only machine you use, especially for casual users who don’t rely on PC-exclusive applications such as AAA gaming titles, or an Adobe suite,for example.

The Samsung Series 3 Chromebook may not be able to do everything, but it's capable of being a reliable companion if you're constantly surfing the web.

During our time with the Chromebook machines, we found that it's perfect for users who spend all their time on a PC with the browser open, because that’s what Chrome OS is – a really robust and capable browser with the power of a full keyboard and mouse to use it like a regular notebook and not be hobbled with Android tablets trying to masquerade for being able to do more. And from how it’s built, users also don’t need to worry (as much) about the OS contracting a virus. Since it is built on a Linux kernel, it fundamentally differs from regular applications running on the Windows or Mac environment.

On top of that, the operating system is constantly being updated with security updates and more directly from Google for at least three years, so you’ll always be running the latest version of the Chrome OS. Then in 2017, this was updated to 6.5 years, and this was again revised upwards to at least eight years for newer models released since 2020.

It has an Expiry Date

However, unlike typical Android or Window based systems that can still receive software/app updates even if their firmware updates have ended after the first few years, Chromebooks are designed with an expiry date where the Chrome OS doesn't receive any further updateafter the stipulated 6.5 to 8 years of support. Since the OS is pretty much the browser itself, you are out of luck from receiving important Chrome updates to use the browser securely. This could be a bummer, but on the bright side, 6.5 to 8 years of support is probably more than the device's usable lifespan. Here is further reference to this from Google's own support page.

If you still think you want a Chromebook, you might want to stick with us for a bit longer as we walk you through further getting familiar with theChrome OS and how to choose between the Chromebook offerings available now.

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