Saturday, 2 February 2013

Chromebook Failings

It's been well over a week, and I just ain't feelin' the lurve.

The Chromebook has some concepts down that I think will take great shape in the next 10 years for how operating systems work and for what we expect from them. For example, I have this dream that any laptop I find, or desktop, mobile, phablet, whatever, I should be able to log into it and I should feel like I'm in my computer. This is how I use Google+, Facebook and all else in the cloud, so why not even my OS? Chrome OS demonstrates admirably that this is possible and that this kind of future makes total sense.

But we are not there yet. I kindly received this as a holiday gift from Google, my oh so generous employer here in Dublin, and I do receive it gratefully. However, I use it painstakingly.

This thing is slow guys. You can't just work on a desktop that is blazing by at 100mph and then expect anything close from the Chromebook. This was my dream, and perhaps this is my mistake. I envisioned an early use case for me as one where I would work on my desk from the trusty MacBook Pro, and for meetings, taking work home, working from other hot-desks/spaces around the office, the Chromebook would suit nicely, being light, unplugged, and in the cloud. While this works, it's just annoying. The trackpad is slow to respond. Clicking feels weird. The mic and speaker crackle and suck (this is solved with a trusty pair of Urban Ears, so no hard feelings). In general, you get a deep sense of gratitude when you come back to a decent laptop. I thought I was just spoiled by my MacBook Pro, which admittedly is beyond decent, it's pro. But I'm much happier on my super old black MacBook... hell, I'm even happier on my girlfriend's Windows 7 laptop than I am on this Chromebook.

These are hardware issues, and what can you expect for $250, right? A lot, it turns out. Laptops are a lot cheaper than I think they get credit for. Throw in another $100 and you save a lot of grief that comes with the Chromebook. This laptop is priced cheap, but not cheap enough. It should be a $100 laptop; a sort of throwaway that you think about as an add-on when you buy a real one.

Not to say that all is bad. The future looks good, and I think that Google's idea here is right. Computers need less in them than they did before, so we need to start thinking about devices that work entirely in the cloud, with some reserved local features. What I love particularly about Chrome OS is how some apps, Hangouts for example, look and act like native applications, rather than something running in the browser. I think with Google working on new ideas for hosted apps and web apps, we'll start seeing traditionally web based services more like the main function of the computer. I think a lot of users probably do anyway. How many people boot up just to check Facebook? Why load all that crap in the background when all you want is a browser? The traditional operating system is a bad idea. The only problem is that the browser based OS is just not really good enough yet. It doesn't mean we shouldn't stop trying though, and I expect Chrome OS has a lot more to show us over the next few years, and hopefully beyond that.

A week ago I posted a picture with my Chromebook alongside my MacBook and my iPad, and said that I needed all four devices, including the Galaxy S3 I took the picture with. I can safely say that my Chromebook is demoted. It's here because it was a gift, and I'm grateful. It's part of my family of gadgets, and it will be used here and there. I could even give it a strong recommendation for some people, who I know need simpler computers in their lives. (I dare not forsake them to Window 8.) But for myself, I just don't think me and my Chromebook are going to be very close. I'm sticking with Apple for now.