We're creatures of habit, so the idea of a new operating environment frankly makes us cringe a bit. It takes time to master the ins and outs of unfamiliar software. But because Chrome OS is the desktop-oriented brother of Android in many ways, many of the idiosyncrasies we'd expect are already quite familiar. Built on a Linux kernel, Chrome OS shares many of its performance attributes with Ubuntu, yet lacks the control Ubuntu gives you over its controls. Terminal is missing, for example, and updates are automatically applied.
Power users aren't big fans of updates that get pushed, like them or not. However, Google is intent on avoiding the security pitfalls suffered by competing operating systems, which give users the choice of when to install, making them vulnerable to exploits. Forcing updates is supposed to make us breathe easier knowing that the very latest fixes are in place.
Whether or not you subscribe to that philosophy is of course a personal choice. It's certainly not hard to see a time some time in the future when Google, previously a staunch proponent of personal privacy, rolls out changes that affect the way your behavior is monitored. Then again, is Microsoft a better alternative? Hard to say. At the very least, Chrome OS should facilitate more timely protection against security intrusions from outside sources.
Chrome OS: A Quick Tour
The interface for Chrome OS is relatively easy to digest in one glance, and its Chrome browser is where all of the magic happens. Shortcuts for Maps, Google+, YouTube, and Drive (formerly Docs) open their respective URLs in Chrome.
Built-in support for Adobe Flash paves the way to watch streaming video on Hulu, YouTube, Amazon, and ESPN. Since updates are automatically applied, you get the latest version of Flash as it's made available, without searching for it.
File Management And Multimedia
Files are managed in an application separate from the Chrome browser. They aren't opened as simply as in Windows, however. Because Chrome OS relies on Google's services, you have to upload a document file to the cloud in order to work on it from the word processor, for example.
And that opens up an entirely new discussion thread. The Chromebox is able to get away with a 16 GB SSD because much of the platform's software ecosystem is Web-based. Are you comfortable with your data living somewhere other than your own machine? Increasingly, the idea of cloud-based storage is being embraced by folks who see its merits. On the other hand, many of us still prefer the perceived security and privacy of information stored in our own systems and backed up to drives where only we have access to them. It's another philosophical issue you'll need to sort through on your own.
Fortunately, multimedia files are handled more traditionally. Images are viewed in the file browser, music files play in a media player, and videos can be played in either the browser or the media player.
Going Offline: Google Docs And Apps
Chrome OS does not allow you to sudo, but the operating system is not necessarily limited to Google-only services. Functionality can be expanded by installing Chrome Apps and Extensions from Google’s webstore. The selection of programs and tools is fairly impressive, and some of the apps even appear tailored to the Windows user taking a first foray into Chrome OS. Aviary, for example, is a free photo-editing application for Chrome OS that should be easy to use for anyone familiar with Photoshop.
These Chrome OS apps are even more useful in light of Google's support for offline mode, which includes the Google Docs service. Previously, you had to be online to work with your productivity-oriented files. However, the offline feature creates a small localized cache of Google Doc files that lets you continue modifying them, even away from an Internet connection.