Friday, November 20, 2009

Raving fan-boy

A while back, I made a post about monopolies done right--and mentioned that I was excited for Google Chrome OS.

Well, I'm back, and I am writing this post from inside the developer-build of ChromeOS!

I thought you could all use a fair and honest evaluation. Let me start with the negative.

Don't use Chrome OS if:
  1. You are an engineer/scientist --use another Linux distro, you'll be happier
  2. You're a computer-hobbyist: You simply don't need to look under the hood
  3. You're a hard-core gamer: this will probably change in a few years, but for now Windows is your best bet
  4. You're on a computer that won't have internet access
Do use Chrome OS if:
  1. Your primary computer-related activities are facebook-ing, web browsing, and checking email
  2. You're a web-developer/programmer
  3. You're concerned about your data

Here's how my experience went.

Step 1 Install
I downloaded a single file, a hard-drive image. I selected that image in VirtualBox, and then started the virtual machine. It booted up (in about 5 seconds), and I was done.

Step 2 Setup
I got to the login screen, and was very confused--I hadn't setup an account or anything, and it was prompting for a username and password. After about a minute of searching, I found out that it was my gmail account--same one I use to login to blogger.

Step 3 Use
While I'm logged in, I'm implicitly logged into all my google-apps. I didn't have to put in my password ever again. I tired watching a movie on hulu--and it worked perfectly. I went to gmail and chatted with a friend for a bit. I then checked out a power-point presentation for a class, and read a pdf file. At no point did I get a "missing-plugin" error, or have any hang-ups. There was nothing foreign or uncomfortable about using it at all.
The whole OS interface is a web-browser, and is just as easy to use. If you've used the Chrome browser (something I recommend because it's rippin fast), then Chrome OS will feel remarkably comfortable.

Step 4 Exploration
I like to dig into the advanced features of everything. A little bit of poking around, and it was obvious that this was some form of Linux--but had I not known where to look, I wouldn't have noticed or really cared. They cache a hashed version of your password on login for future offline logins in the OS's home directory. Everything you run is sandboxed--so I don't think it would be possible to harm a machine running ChromeOS, even if you got a virus.
They have some amazing web-development tools available for you while you're there. Honestly, for a web-programmer they really only lack an advanced text-editor and a terminal.
That was one thing that bothered me: I couldn't get a terminal opened. Frankly, if you're going to have a Linux-based OS, and have bash installed, you might as well give some sort of interface for accessing that, right? Really, that's the only thing that Chrome OS lacks--the ability to just execute dumb binaries. Given that 90% of the frustration people have with computers is that they need to "execute dumb binaries," this probably isn't a bad paradigm shift.
However, just because that has been an annoyance to the general populace, I don't believe that it should be completely abandoned. The only things that Chrome OS is missing are executing and displaying locally-run programs, an interface for locally-stored content, and a package-manager for the hobbyists.
Given that we're still about a year away from the official release of Chrome OS, I am willing to overlook these shortcomings--but they will need to trust their users a bit more and give them greater access to their own computers before they can really hit the main market.


Overall:
Chrome OS is remarkably usable, convenient, safe, and wicked fast. If you ever find the opportunity to buy a Chrome OS computer in the future, do it. It'll save you $40 upfront (since Chrome is free), and about three or four hours of aggravation setting it up. Honestly, Chrome OS is in a very good position to replace Windows as the primary OS for one simple reason: they know what their users really want.
If you're like 98% of the computer-using population, you just want the dumb machine to work. You should just turn it on, and it should be where you want it to be. You don't have hours (or even minutes) to spend tweaking every setting until the machine works.
Microsoft designed its OS at the height of computer-hobbyists. They still hold to those values. Chrome OS is designed for a computer-user, and have done a heck of a job with it all.
I have never used a development-bleeding edge item of software that was this refined and well done. The development code was released yesterday, and I would already consider Chrome OS a top candidate OS for my wife, mom, and sister. Anyone who doesn't want to fix their own computer should seriously look into using Chrome OS.


A+ Google

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