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Chrome OS: Why It Still Sucks

Photo Credits to: https://bit.ly/2Aq341S

Photo Credits to: https://bit.ly/2Aq341S

Chris Uustal, Staff Writer

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Back in early 2011, Google released Chrome OS, an operating system based entirely around their Google Chrome web browser with a focus on low-end budget laptops. These laptops were marketed as a simpler and cheaper option for education systems to provide to their students, as they were inexpensive, very portable, easily managed by school administration as nearly all data was stored in the cloud as compared to locally on the device, and provided nearly all necessary functions most students needed, like a word processor and image editor through Google Drive. Google attempted to market this as the future of computing where all of one’s files could be saved to the cloud and accessed from any device anywhere, removing the tether to one individual device. However, seven years later, these devices have struggled to grow beyond the same initial category they were marketed to despite Google’s best attempts all because of a core issue with Chrome OS: compatibility.

To be fair to Chrome OS, it performs its initial function towards students perfectly, providing them with most of the necessary capabilities any laptop for education should afford them. Using Chrome OS, a student can write a paper, make a presentation, send an email, browse the web, and edit a photo all seamlessly through their Google account, and, honestly, this covers the needs of the vast majority of students throughout their entire educational career. It doesn’t really matter how powerful these laptops are, as the functions they are performing are not computationally intensive relative to even low-end hardware available in the laptop space today. Considering these devices fulfill the needs of the majority of students, their low price tag makes them almost unbeatable by any offerings of the competition either in the Windows or Mac OS space. As a result, Chrome OS has been able to provide computer access to countless students across the world who otherwise would not have had the opportunity, and for that I commend Google. However, where Chrome OS falls apart is when it tried to be anything more than just a glorified browser.

Plain and simple, if a user wants to get any amount of real work done using any application that doesn’t have a browser equivalent, Chrome OS struggles if not entirely fails. When it comes to operating systems like Windows or Mac OS, there is a well-developed ecosystem of applications which have been created over the years to perform nearly all of the tasks that a user could desire, be it for productivity, entertainment, or otherwise. Even a platform like Linux which isn’t in the mainstream has been able to build a solid ecosystem of applications which allow it to function entirely independently as its own operating system, only suffering from occasional failings. However, Chrome OS is simply so new to a market that is already so well developed and populated that it is in a different position almost entirely; this late in the development process, it would be almost unreasonable to expect a whole host of companies to pop into existence simply to fill the void of applications on Chrome OS. Instead, Google has attempted to assist in the more likely process of well-established companies trying to convert over already existing applications from other platforms to Chrome OS. Google has even tried to smooth this process by adding compatibility for Android apps to run on Chrome OS, opening up an already well-developed ecosystem on the mobile platform to a more powerful selection of hardware. The only issue with this is that all of the applications which were designed for android were built with its hardware and software limitations in mind, so even though you can technically run “Adobe Photoshop” on the same hardware that might be in a low-end Windows laptop, the user experience is going to differ greatly.

The main issue that now falls into play is the issue of incentive; while Google might try their hardest to push a new premium line of devices running Chrome OS like their $1000 Pixelbook, the vast majority of devices running Chrome OS, so the majority of users in the space, are still running on the same old, low-end hardware that comes in any generic Chromebook. Because these low-end devices don’t have the computational power to properly take advantage of a fully fledged application, instead only being able to manage a few simple tasks in a web browser, there is very little reason for a large company to bother investing the time and money necessary to produce an application on an entirely new operating system. This then locks Chrome OS into an awkward position where it has an offering of premium devices, but it doesn’t have any of the necessary applications that the majority of users in that price range would need, instead pushing them to offerings on other platforms. Basically, powerful Chrome OS devices need to become popular for companies to see the incentive to develop an ecosystem of apps on it, but a powerful ecosystem of apps need to be developed on Chrome OS before consumers will be willing to purchase powerful Chrome OS devices at the scale necessary.

With its current set of goals in mind, I don’t see any way for Google to escape this vicious cycle without a massive effort being put forward on either the consumer or the producer end, neither of which is likely to happen any time soon. However, there is one course of action which I believe could potentially rectify this issue in some way: dual booting, the process of allowing a computer to boot into multiple different operating systems. While this wouldn’t be possible monetarily for the lowest end of the Chrome OS lineup, if the premium options came default with the ability to boot into both Windows and Chrome OS with the ability to seamlessly transition between the two, then that might be a much more tempting offer. Assuming Google could find a way to make the operating systems work together cohesively despite their massive difference in file structures currently, this could provide for a very compelling offer. Any time I needed to do anything related to the internet, I could use Chrome OS with its low performance tax and high level of cohesion between different web based applications. Then, any time I needed to do something more intensive, such as 3D modeling or gaming, I could switch over to Windows and perform my tasks there. Mind you, this is by no means a perfect solution, potentially even being an awful solution with far too many complexities and incongruities to be effective, but I don’t see any other way for Google to effectively escape the position they have found themselves trapped in. For the vast majority of users looking for a premium laptop, they either turn to Windows or Mac OS, and if Google wants their Chrome OS to be added to that list, they might first need to make some compromises to get to a position where at least one side has enough of an incentive to start making the push that starts the ball rolling. Right now there are rumors that Google is developing a new, more traditional operating system version of Chrome OS in an attempt to bridge this gap, but it will likely fall to the same issue: with no ecosystem, it isn’t a compelling offer for someone to spend their hard-earned money on compared to one of the well established giants in the space. Even though Google is pushing towards a future of interconnectivity that I believe is the right direction to travel in, I think, at least for right now, it is too far of a leap to make, and Google might need to tone back their expectations if they ever want Chrome OS to become anything more than just a glorified browser.

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