Cloud computing is on the tip of just about every nerd’s tongue these days: when is it finally going to take over; will the architecture really be able to handle such vast amounts of personal data; is it really any good?
It certainly feels like a step in the right direction. Not only is the internet fast becoming the sole purpose of the average user’s personal computer, but also because of the web’s big-name players slowly, but surely, recognising its potential.
Cue Google (possibly the biggest player of them all) with its new Chromebook venture: a giant step into Cloud computing territory by offering consumers a Cloud-only experience with its new operating system, Chrome OS.
Interested? Well how about trying out a little “demo” version I’ve concocted:
Download and install the Google Chrome browser; open it up and access the Chrome Web Store; install some apps and games that interest you (perhaps a free version of Angry Birds). Got all that? Right, now try not using your desktop, start menu, or any installed software on your computer for the rest of the day. There you have it: Chrome OS.
Chrome OS is a very different operating system. For a start, there’s no desktop. No ability to install software. No user-installed updates. No file browser (or at least, not one that resembles anything found on its Mac and PC counterparts). It’s simply the web. While alarming at first, you might soon find yourself becoming quite attached to it. A user of Google Docs, Gmail and Google Calender will feel right at home, for instance, but for everyone else, the concept can be a tad daunting. Especially when you consider those moments when your Wifi goes down or you can’t get 3G reception.
At present, external devices (USB sticks etc.) connect through all the normal ports and can be browsed through a pop-up style file manager. A clever little feature involves the system recognising your photos on an iput device, and allowing you to upload them directly to your Picasa account. Despite that, there seems to be an issue with printing. Unless your printer is “cloud-ready” and can access Google’s Cloud Printing service, the device will not work. Such a fundamental flaw in the operating system is hard to overlook, and a mistake, if you ask me, on Google’s part.
As of yet, the most obvious device available with Chrome OS pre-installed is the Samsung Series 5 (Amazon US / UK). Not off to a widespread start, one might conclude, but saying that, the machine boasts some impressive specs: booting in under 10 seconds and giving 8.5 hours of continuous use on a single battery charge, it’s a snappy-chap for the under-$500 market. But is it cheap enough for such a limited experience? Google promises that each computer will “improve over time”, suggesting that the automatic, under-the-bonnet updates will, in fact, boost the speed and performance of the device as it gets older. With no repairs or replacements therefore necessary due to a software fault, the price tag doesn’t actually appear unreasonable.
Issues surrounding offline use are also apparant. So far, Google has only promised to deliver offline support, not actually include it, so buying a Chromebook tomorrow could leave you with just an expensive paperweight if you regularly drop connections or travel without cellular data. But with all its flaws aside, you really can’t fault Google for its efforts in the field. With updates happening as frequently as once-a-week, Chrome OS and Chromebooks may just be an early glimpse into the future of computing. It’s getting to that stage where once CDs and DVDs looked like a waste of space, now mp3s and mp4s are the same. Why, for example, should we be forced to backup our data with external harddrives and USB devices, when Google are quite happy to do it for you at no direct cost? I know one thing’s for sure, I’d rather have my faith in the Cloud, as opposed to my own hands.