Google’s Chrome OS – Mobile Computing Redefined?

Chrome OS running on a prototype laptop

What is your laptop without the internet? What program do you spend most of your time working in? Do you hate electronics salespeople, yet let them scam you every time you buy something that has an on/off switch? If you answered: “nothing”, “the internet browser”, and “yes”, then Google’s taken another right step in its ongoing and so far very successful quest for world domination with its upcoming operating system, Chrome OS.

Chrome OS is a new way of computing. It boots up within ten seconds. It’s easy to use, with no complex installations or compulsory restarts. You lose/break your laptop – no problem, as everything is automatically backed up to “the cloud”. There are never any annoying prompts for updates from version to version of programs you never use; updates are all performed automatically and, crucially, they are free forever. What makes Chrome OS so special? It comes with only one thing installed, and it’s the only thing you’ll ever need: an internet browser.

Here’s the situation: you were halfway through writing the summative from hell when your rickety old laptop threw in the towel. You didn’t have heaps of money to be throwing about on a flash new one, yet you reluctantly headed on down to your local laptop shop with only one aim. You were going to buy a laptop that has a screen, a keyboard, runs the internet wirelessly, and (oh joys!) might even have a webcam.

After exchanging pleasantries with the spotty teenage sales staff and explaining both your budget and your situation, what you needed was apparently the laptop that was twice what you could afford and had a feature list as follows:

Core i3 2.4 GHz 2MB L3 Cache 4GB 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM 1TB 7200 RPM HDD 15.4″HD OLED A/B/G/N WIFI DVDRW+- ATI HD 5450 1GB 800MHz GDDR5 graphics

On any other day you might have asked the sales rep to read the list out over and over just for laughs but oh god the summative the summative. The confusing mix of numbers and letters meant nothing – was there something about a screen in there? You coughed up the dough and paid a little extra for the shiny one because it’s “faster” and it “has more memory”. However, when you got home you found little to no difference in your computing experience compared to the glory days of your happy bank account and your old behemoth of a laptop that’s now sitting in landfill. What’s worse, your new gadget failed the ultimate test – you can still make a cup of tea and be back at your desk before you get the “you can use me now!” sound.

Let’s rewind. Same scenario, but Chrome OS is on the market. You walk into the same laptop shop, where you have the last laugh – you buy a much cheaper laptop and the decision was simple – it’s a Chrome OS laptop. No fuss about RAM, GHz, nada. And that’s it; you’re sorted. You get home, open the laptop’s lid, enter your new username, the wireless key for the network, and you’re ready to go.

The problem today is that the general user doesn’t need the bells and whistles that are bandied about as the sliced bread of computing. Sure, techies that edit photos/videos might benefit from the extra brute power that systems upwards of £1,000 might offer, but it frankly makes little difference to most users whether a laptop has two, four, or six cores/gigabytes of RAM/flebibytes of hoo-haa. Who cares about all this? Not me, not you. All we care about is that we can work in office applications like Word and Excel, watch video, listen to music, check e-mail, browse the web, and play the odd game. Thanks to Google, the reality is that we can already do all of this in a web browser through Google Docs, YouTube, the upcoming Google Music service, Gmail, and the endless number of apps turning up daily in Chrome’s fledgling web store.

However, Chrome OS isn’t without its shortcomings. With all your laptop’s data stored by Google in the cloud, you are surrendering everything to Google. In the past, Google’s access to your internet search history might not have been such a big deal. Now, Chrome OS strives to put Google at the very core of your entire information experience, where you have zero control over any data you input into your laptop. Furthermore, the security of having all your data backed up all the time is fundamentally flawed in that it relies on a constant internet connection. Hop on a train without Wi-Fi, write an essay, spill coffee on your laptop, and you can kiss goodbye to the past three hours’ work.

If you already have Google Chrome (the browser) installed on your laptop, you will already have many of Chrome OS’s features at your fingertips, so you might try living within your browser for a while as a test of whether Chrome OS works for you. It can’t be denied that a device that boots up in 10 seconds flat, needs little to no setting up and just works is the epitome of what students and grannies alike need, but it all boils down to whether you can stomach letting Google know oodles about you.

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