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4/10/2012
03:19 PM
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4 Fixes Google Chrome OS Still Needs

The latest version of Chrome OS looks more like a desktop operating system than ever. Is this Google's way of admitting it was wrong to limit us to the Web?

Google has released a new version of Chrome OS for the handful of programmers with Acer AC700 and Samsung Series 5 Chromebooks who are tuned to the company's developer channel. The update makes Chrome OS more like Windows or OS X--just the sort of desktop operating systems that Chrome aimed to make obsolete.

"Our vision with Chrome OS is to provide a user experience that gets better every six weeks," a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "One of the areas we've thought a lot about is the desktop and windows manager environment, and creating a simpler, more intuitive experience for our users. As the latest version of Chrome OS is released into the beta channel, our users will begin to see some of these changes."

There are actually more than a handful of Chrome OS users on the developer channel. How many more? Google won't say, and that's seldom a good sign. In its quarterly investor conference calls since partners Acer and Samsung introduced Chrome OS hardware last summer, Google has yet to mention Chromebook adoption figures. Google executives regularly celebrate the number of people using the company's Chrome browser--200 million CEO Larry Page recently noted--but their silence about Chrome OS usage has been ominous.

Among other improvements, such as better support for multiple monitors, Chrome browser version 19.0.1048.17--identified as version 2046.20.0 of Chrome OS--includes a revised UI and an updated Window Manager. Practically speaking, this means that Google is allowing Chromebook users--excluding early adopters with Google's own Cr-48 Chromebook prototypes--to look beyond the browser to the desktop underneath.

[ Read Google Launches Chrome OS Preview. ]

In previous versions of Chrome OS, the browser window could not be removed. It was as if Google had nailed the browser pane over the desktop. Without local files to manipulate, access to the desktop on a Chrome OS machine doesn't mean much. But Chrome OS does support the storage of some user files, such as media downloads, and Google might make these more accessible by allowing them to be manipulated outside of Chrome OS's browser-based file list.

The new Aura Desktop Window Manager treats browser windows as windows that can be moved, to reveal a desktop area, and can be separated into discrete UI elements. The Chrome browser in Chrome OS now works more or less like it does on Windows or OS X hardware. It even includes a taskbar for launching Web apps.

Aura also extends Chrome's reach into the underlying operating system. On Windows PCs, it appears that future versions of Chrome OS will be more closely integrated with the Windows APIs, making Web apps better able to use desktop operating system resources.

Does this mean Chrome OS will run in a shell environment on Windows PCs, becoming in effect an operating system within Windows? Google declined to comment. But the Aura documentation suggests this.

When Chrome OS was launched in 2010, Google SVP of Chrome and apps Sundar Pichai declared, "Chrome OS is nothing but the Web." Now, if you peer behind the browser pane, it's clear that Chrome OS is looking beyond the Web. It's not a complete repudiation of Google's bet on the appeal of a thin-client system that keeps user data in the cloud. But it is a concession to the realities of a market that's more comfortable with the familiar desktop metaphor.

Aura should help make Chrome OS more appealing to mainstream users. However, Google needs to do more. Google, if you're listening, here's what Chrome OS still needs:

-- Better hardware. The current crop of Chromebooks is underpowered and not particularly innovative. Look at what Apple has done with the MacBook Air and at what some of the makers of ultrabooks have accomplished. Now make something better, and offer both high- and low-end models. You'll never attract power users with underpowered, under-equipped devices.

-- Web-based IDE. Buy Cloud 9 or hurry up and roll out "Brightly", your long-rumored Web-based IDE. If you want developers to create Web apps, give them tools that allow them to do so using Chrome.

-- Support local storage. Stop with the "nothing but the Web" nonsense. Pichai once said, "I don't think we need files anymore." And somehow, no one else at Google mustered a coherent rebuttal. The notion is absurd. Files represent ownership. They offer a defense against lock-in. You yourself make a big deal about this with your Data Liberation Front. Files are freedom. Without them, one's data exists only at the pleasure of one's service provider. And that's no way to live. Chrome OS will be able to challenge Linux, OS X, or Windows when it offers broad support for storing data locally and mirroring local files in the cloud.

-- Offline apps. Your notion that cloud computing can completely replace local computing is as absurd as your nothing-but-the-Web conceit. Google Apps needs to run offline and to be at least as responsive as Microsoft Word in the absence of a network connection. Really, any Web app should run offline. We have the technology, even if HTML5 local storage might not be mature yet. Of course, you don't want people to operate offline because you cannot deliver ads or collect data when there's no network connection. But you would do better to provide services that people want to use rather than trying to steer customers toward services that fit your business model.

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Control Group
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Control Group,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/17/2012 | 9:32:21 PM
re: 4 Fixes Google Chrome OS Still Needs
An experiment with Chromebook: http://blog.controlgroup.com/2...
DylanK
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DylanK,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/13/2012 | 3:02:26 PM
re: 4 Fixes Google Chrome OS Still Needs
As I said earlier, locally stored music is possible today. There is even a built in local media player. In your defense, this functionality is only available from the file manager and is not a stand alone "app" so you may not have seen/found it. Programing (github) and professional photo/video editing is not a proper use case for a Chromebook IMO.
YMOM100
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YMOM100,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/12/2012 | 11:27:04 PM
re: 4 Fixes Google Chrome OS Still Needs
Maybe they mean sth like SD cards? Hard drives? The Cr-48 has a USB port than can be used to attach storage.
Tom Claburn
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Tom Claburn,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/12/2012 | 6:27:53 PM
re: 4 Fixes Google Chrome OS Still Needs
Opening local copies of Docs files for editing (they can be stored and read presently, just not edited) would be what I'd use most as a writer. (I've wanted to try covering events with a Chromebook but have been unable to because WiFi is unpredictable at tech conferences and I can't afford to be unable to access Docs when something is happening live.) Locally stored music would be better -- wireless streaming isn't that good in my experience. Local github repositories would be useful. Local storage is also better for editing hi-res photos and videos. While some of this may be possible using the limited file interface on Chromebooks, it's not the priority it should be.
DylanK
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DylanK,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/12/2012 | 12:47:06 PM
re: 4 Fixes Google Chrome OS Still Needs
But you say nothing of that in your list of "4 Fixes" Support Local Storage is your bullet point and then go on to imply that local storage is not supported and discuss file liberation cloud sync arguments. Those have very little to do with local storage.

As for "Accessing and manipulating locally stored files should be built into the UI as if that's a major use case, not an edge use case. It also needs to be more a part of the apps running on Chrome OS." The files can be "accessed" from the"File Manager" that is right there on the first page you see. From there you can view, edit(simple) and upload photos, play music and video, view and print pdfs, etc. The one thing you can't do from the file manager is open "docs" files (you can open local from the docs app) and I agree that Google needs to work on making and storing docs not created in the cloud.
Besides this what exactly are you wanting to "manipulate" on these local files?
Tom Claburn
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Tom Claburn,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/11/2012 | 10:34:41 PM
re: 4 Fixes Google Chrome OS Still Needs
"But Chrome OS does support the storage of some user files, such as media downloads, and Google might make these more accessible by allowing them to be manipulated outside of Chrome OS's browser-based file list."

I'm aware that Chrome OS allows you to store files, but Google clearly doesn't emphasize that aspect of using Chrome OS. It wants you to operate in the cloud. Accessing and manipulating locally stored files should be built into the UI as if that's a major use case, not an edge use case. It also needs to be more a part of the apps running on Chrome OS.
DylanK
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DylanK,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/11/2012 | 3:23:13 PM
re: 4 Fixes Google Chrome OS Still Needs
Support local storage? Really? I am getting sick of this silly statement. Chrome OS has supported local storage (especially media!) since it's first release on the CR-48. How do you "tech" writers get away with the continued spread of misinformation?
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