May 17, 2011

What people think of ChromeOS and chromebooks



Before we talk about the users you must understand what ChromeOS is and what capabilities are included. ChromeOS is a very minimalistic operating system that bases nearly all interaction inside the Google-chrome web-browser, the only exception is a very limited terminal environment which is used for diagnostics and enterprise configurations. The browser interface is capable of managing your network connections, users, apps and extensions. The users will not be capable of installing full applications or plugging a usb printer into the chromebooks and expecting them to work. Instead the apps will be installed via the chrome web store and will run as extensions to the web-browser or links to websites. All printing will be managed through the Google cloud print service. At this time ChromeOS is not capable of reading external media such as cameras, usb drives and external hard drives, but that addition is already present on beta channel and will be pushed to the stable users soon.

The CR-48 beta unit was received in mid December, which means that I have had 6 months to test ChromeOS and share it with others to guage their interest and issues, so here is the feedback.

Kids love ChromeOS because it loads fast, has flash installed and updated by default. The simplicity in managing apps, accessing the internet and playing flash games appeals to children. The only person who has played with the CR-48 unit as much as me is my 10 year old son, he loves it so much that he is saving his allowance to purchase one for himself.

Personal End-Users
Many end-users who have played with ChromeOS for extended periods are impressed by the amazing boot time, simplicity, security and batter life. Most of the personal end-users that I have let use the device have been waiting impatiently for their chance to own a chromebook, several of them are already watching Best Buy so they can pre-order their own chromebooks for basic use and mobile access.

The apparent lack of latex support has scared many professional writers away from ChromeOS, but as needs arise solutions present themselves. I have found and implemented some latex editor plug-ins for Google-docs that allow full writing and rendering of professional documents. With this addition the writers I know are now more willing to consider using chromebooks as their primary mobile computers.

Corporate End-Users
Most corporate users are afraid of loosing ms office and some of their local software, but welcome the opportunity to use more web-based software such as Google-docs, ms office 365 and cloud based business applications. The reason for them welcoming the change is that they are tired or troublesome Os updates, OS crashes and the lag caused by security software.

Developers and Engineers
This group is definitely not the target audience of ChromeOS, but despite the apparent limitations they were impressed. As stated before on ChromeOS you cannot install applications, which means that you can't setup a web-server for a webmaster, add SDK tools or advanced applications. Despite that limitation these users had found that they can use the ssh client to sign into servers that use the software they need to complete most of their tasks. They do not think it would work as their primary computer, but as a secondary computer it allows some functionality.

Corporate Technology Managers
As you may assume the manager that make the purchasing decisions are not quiet as easily impressed. They are intrigued by the idea of simplified control and having no fear of assets walking out of the office, but need more control. The requests have included removing the web cam, offering desktops with Ethernet connection, allowing authentication on their domains, remote desktop tools and a method to control updates. The standard opinion is that this concept it trying to bring back the old mainframe/terminal concept, but this time with the browser as the terminal and the intranet and/or internet becoming the mainframe. Based off of their reactions Google will needs to make some strategic changes for their business offerings to be successful.

The last opinion is my own. As a developer, administrator and support person ChromeOS will not fulfill all of my needs. The developer in me thinks it is too restrictive, but it forces me to ssh into more powerful computers and servers to do development, which is useful. The administrator in me loves the potential of limited user damage, no viri and centralized storage. If there was a way to centralize all management within my domain and leave me in control this will be a great option. The support person in me loves ChromeOS because users cannot easily damage the software, which drops most of the support time. In all ChromeOS will not replace my primary Linux installations or my servers, but my CR-48 chromebook fulfills 90% of my uses and will remain with me for quick access and a perfect mobile laptop.

Each person is entitled to their own opinions and these are the opinions that I have collected. Please share your opinions and those from people you have spoken with in the comments, please be sure to include a statement telling if you have or have not used ChromeOS.

Edit: While I was writing this article Google pushed the update to the stable users that enabled external media support. I have confirmed that it works for usb storage devices, so that part has been fixed.

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