At the end of last week, I mentioned that I was heading out of town for a long weekend–mostly involving pleasure, but some work as well–and was going to take Google’s Cr-48 Chrome OS notebook as my only computer. The trip’s almost over. And here’s a report on how it went.
- Like Chrome-the-browser, Chrome OS includes an embedded version of Adobe’s Flash Player. And as with the browser, the fact that Flash is built in doesn’t seem to do much to improve it, at least in my experience. I’ve had repeated instances of Flash crashing, leaving Chrome’s “choking folder” icon where a video should be. In fact, entire tabs have crashed on the Cr-48 several times; I can’t tell whether Flash is the culprit.
- My most-used app is my blogging platform, WordPress.com. On the Cr-48, it looks and behaves just like it does on a Windows PC or a Mac. In fact, anytime I’m doing something that I already know works well in an utterly Web-based fashion, it works well on the CR-48.
- When I write stuff that’s not for a blog-such as my TIME.com Technologizer column I’ve been using a wonderful Mac- and Windows-based word processor called Scrivener. Can’t do that on Chrome OS. So I switched to Google Docs’ word processor. I miss several things about Scrivener, including the ability to bundle multiple documents in one file and set a word-count goal. But I got my column on Google’s new Nexus S phone done (read it tomorrow!) in about the same amount of time that it would have taken in Scrivener.
- Chrome extensions work in Chrome OS, but only sort of–or at least most of the ones I’ve tried have been a tad glitchy.
- Everywhere I went on the Web, I seemed to run across invitations to download software–sites don’t know that Chrome OS can’t run programs. (Sometimes they appeared to think the Cr-47 was a Linux box (which it is, although not a typical one); in other cases, they seemed to think it was a Windows PC.) I downloaded a few programs just for yuks, but couldn’t do anything with them.
- Chrome OS boots up quickly and comes out of suspend mode in a jiffy. But once you’re actually up and running and getting stuff done, it doesn’t feel particularly fast on the Cr-48, which has an Intel Atom CPU and 2GB of RAM. At times, it feels downright sluggish. Conclusion: Chrome OS notebooks might sell for less than similar Windows machines, but it won’t be because the OS so efficient that it doesn’t need meaningful hardware muscle.
- We’re publishing a neat story by Jared Newman tomorrow morning. I wanted to create a piece of introductory art for it. But none of the Web-based graphics services I tried Picnik, Aviary, Pixlr, and FotoFlexer were well-suited to the job. I wanted to create some text and apply effects to it, but Technologizer’s standard font (Rockwell) isn’t available in any of these services, and their text-handling features are rudimentary and cumbersome. I decided to cheat by waiting to create the graphic until I land back in San Francisco and am reunited with my MacBook.
- I finally figured out out how to drag-and-click with the Cr-48’s touchpad. Rather than trying to click the touchpad, I’m tapping it (an option which must be turned on) and then dragging. It’s confusing at first, but works okay.
- I haven’t been monitoring the Cr-48’s battery life, but it seems quite good: On Saturday, I carried it around and used it occasionally much as I might do with an iPad and I didn’t come close to draining its charge.
- I assume that Google is still working on mechanisms for managing files and getting them off of external devices. I shot some photos here in Las Vegas and wanted to put them on Picasa or Facebook, but neither service’s upload feature could see the SD card. On the other hand, Picnik’s uploader could see it via a nerdy file manager that looks like an artifact of Chrome OS’s Linux underpinnings, and which reveals the Cr-48’s otherwise-hidden file system.
- I really like the way you can zip between Chrome OS windows with one keypress. Multiple-desktop utilities have been around for eons (I used one from Xerox called Rooms in the early 1990s) but Google’s version is the first one I’ve seen that’s utterly painless in part because it’s leaping between multiple browser windows rather than full-blown desktops.
- I brought an SD card full of music and videos with me on the trip, but I can’t figure out how to get at them from Chrome OS. (I made a stab at uploading them to SugarSync, but it can’t see the SD card even when it’s inserted in the CR-48’s slot.)
I remain intrigued but also somewhat flummoxed by the Cr-48 and Chrome OS in general. If the best thing you can say about it is that it’s possible by managing your expectations and formulating workarounds to use it as an alternative to a Windows PC or a Mac, it’s going to flop. It needs to be better than a Windows PC or a Mac at least for some people, some of the time, in the way that the iPad beats traditional computers in certain instances even though it can’t replace them.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s blog post about Chrome OS is helpful here, even though one thing it doesn’t do is to clearly articulate a target audience. He refers to an “epic journey” and talks about Chrome OS being a viable third choice in desktop operating systems. My takeaway: He’s declaring that Google is in the operating system game for the long haul, and it wants to be a big player. Even if it takes multiple versions of Chrome OS to get there.
And with that, I need to pack up and head for the airport. My next test of the Cr-48 will come when I’m home and can choose to use it, a Windows laptop, or a MacBook. Any guesses about whether I’ll be drawn back to the Cr-48 even when more powerful, traditional alternatives are available?