When Google launched Android as the world’s best open source operating system, but only for mobiles, people were expecting to see if the trend will engulf laptops and computers as well soon enough.
Most users shifted to mobile, light devices as their main gadget and the need for a open source, always connected laptop (if possible, mini) was increasingly high.
Google announced almost a year ago Chrome OS, an OS aimed at laptops and computers, free of charge, aimed at those spending a lot of time online. Based on Google’s very popular Chrome browser, the operating system is currently present on two Chromebooks, from Acer and Samsung. These Chromebooks are larger netbooks (11.6 inch the Acer and 12.1 inch the Samsung), running on Chrome OS and packing hardware very similar to mainstream netbooks.
We’ll get to that in a moment, but for now let’s take a look at the overall features of the OS. Chrome OS is basically a browser skin put on top of Linux and optimized for online use. A Chromebook is supposedly always connected and your profile and personal data are stored on secured servers. Your active apps are basically open browser tabs and you can move between them as you would move between normal, tabbed web pages.
There’s also a rater rudimentary file browsing system, but you’re supposed to store most of them in the cloud anyway. It comes with all the Google apps you might need, like Gmail, Maps, Gtalk and others, but you can always install others via the apps market environment. Otherwise, you can do with a Chromebook pretty much everything you can do with a normal netbook, like browsing the web, watching videos, playing some light games (Angry Birds works fine), edit documents, chat and more.
More complicated tasks, like editing videos and photos, is a little tricky, as the dedicated apps for this are kind of modest. And as video playback is concerned, Flash clips often crash, as it is the case with many other apps running on this still incipient OS. And this is its main problem: the system is not yet fully developed, offering a fraction of the experience it should offer.
While users never complained about boot speeds or connectivity, apps crashing and scarcity of available apps are often mentioned as problems of Chrome OS. As a niche offering for tech addicts, Chrome OS has its share of perks, but for casual users, looking to enjoy a smooth experience, not hindered by crashes, the OS is still in the making.
As for the Chromebooks currently available, they are as good as the OS allows them to be. The 11.6 inch Acer runs on a dual core Atom processor, has 2 GB of RAM, an HD display and 16 GB SSD, as you don’t quite need local storage. Considering that it only has to deal with a pimped up browser, the Chromebook is pretty smooth and can even outsource HD clips on a bigger display via a HDMI port. The Acer Chromebook is available now from Amazon with a massive discount.
The Series 5 Samsung Chromebook is slightly larger, 12.1 inch, has a anti glare display and a similar Intel Atom dual core CPU, as well as 2 GB of RAM. Like Acer’s Chromebook, it has a WiFi only version and a 3G/WiFi version. The two machines are fairly well equipped and balanced, being entry to mid level netbooks by current standards, but packing a open source OS that has a “always connected” philosophy. The WiFi only version of the Series 5 Chromebook goes for $399, whilethe 3G version will cost you $449.
A 2012 generation of the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook is on root pretty soon.
The OS doesn’t really offer a breathtaking experience and the fact that is still quite buggy doesn’t help too much either, but it’s nice to have an alternative to Windows or iOS for a change. If you can overcome the shortcomings of the OS and are willing to consider a browser as your OS, then using one of these two Chromebooks will be quite fun, as in terms of functionality and design offer the same experience as a full fledged netbook.