Over the years, I've seen a number of attempts to create the first truly use anywhere, idiot-proof Linux PC. And until recently, Chromebooks (anything with ChromeOS) was easily the winner.
Then a PC company known as Endless did something that really surprised me – they released their highly customized version of Ubuntu GNOME into something everyone could try. Will it beat out ChromeOS in terms of access, simplicity and overall value? Let's take a gander and find out.
At their purist level, the difference between Endless’s and Chrome's layout is in what each desktop expects from its users. Endless assumes the user may have never used a computer. This is addressed with a built in video walk-through and also by putting everything onto the desktop by default. ChromeOS differs here. Instead there is some implied exception of user experience, even though the workflow is easy to access and quite logical.
Another thing I noticed with Endless, is that the offline offerings were substantial. For example, the virtual school had all sorts of stuff from Khan Academy, among other education sources. This provided videos in which students could in fact learn math, science and other related subjects even without Internet access. Then there is the Wikipedia section – anything you can think of in Wikipedia is likely to be included for offline access.
Without even getting too deep into it, ChromeOS loses on this front hard. Endless has proper printer support, a document scanning application...along with oodles of other locally installed software applications available. Music playback, photo editing, even video games were all made available to me right out of the box with Endless.
Then to add salt into the ChromeOS wounds, all of the "extensions" available in ChromeOS can be installed into Chromium, which just happens to be Endless' default web browser.
Having real, locally installed software applications is one of the reasons why I believe we're seeing ChromeOS adding Android applications to their list of available options. Without Android apps, ChromeOS is simply too limited. And when you bundle this with the fact that Endless also incorporates Facebook, and WhatsApp as desktop shortcuts, it's easy to see that Endless isn't pigeonholing themselves with only one brand of product. Google, by contrast, is using Google products first and foremost.
Finally, installing new functionality is super easy with Endless. Using a software center that clearly has Ubuntu roots, installing software is as easy as browsing and clicking into it. From there, it's added to the desktop.
Sadly, I didn't see any indication that Endless gave any serious thought to user data. Perhaps I missed the cloud backup solutions found in Ubuntu proper with something like Deja Dup, however I believe I'm right.
ChromeOS by contrast, backups of all of your data all the time. While ChromeOS requires an Internet connection, it does make the entire idea of off-site data backup seamless. This is one area where I think having Deja Dup setup to backup to Google, Dropbox or other third party services would be beneficial to folks using Endless. While most of us might feel better about a Duplicity script setup to backup to AWS, let's remember the target user in this case – regular folks.
In terms of who wins the "OS pre-installed to a computer" comparison, I think it depends on what the end user is looking for. With ChromeOS, the biggest target user is someone looking for a simple laptop that's all inclusive and has everything you need to get up and running immediately.
The key thing with the Chromebook, however, is that it's extremely limited without an Internet connection. Trying printing with wifi – it's not happening. So even though there are a few offline applications that are usable for the Chromebook, it's best suited for those who have access to a decent broadband wifi connection.
Endless is installed into boxes designed to work with an existing monitor, keyboard and mouse. For some folks, this is just fine. But it still means that the user needs to be able to obtain these items. Given the fact the Endless computers are largely targeted to those who can't afford much, this increases the price when a monitor, keyboard and mouse aren't readily available.
On the plus side, however, Endless computers do come with the ability to connect with wired connections. Unlike Chromebooks.
ChromeOS wins this one hands down. Why? Because unlike my installation of Endless with the broken repositories (I triple checked the urls from the source.list), ChromeOS updates are handled by the masters of big data themselves – Google. And as luck would have it, Google also handles the update frequency as well.
Now, if Endless provided working repositories for their publicly offered Endless OS, I think we'd see the scales tip a bit. But as it stands now, this simply isn't the case at all.
I think if you're looking to install an operating system for someone on an existing computer, you should consider something like Ubuntu MATE, Linux Mint, PCLinuxOS, or Elementary OS. The reason why I say this is that with companies like Google and Endless, they need to have "skin in the game" in order to be motivated to offer support. A free OS simply doesn't provide this and thus, is best supported by the Linux community.
See, you can't install ChromeOS on a PC. So this leaves you with the stripped down Chromium OS instead. And with Endless, well, not having any recourse for working repositories makes me a bit apprehensive. After all, updates are pretty important. So even though I mentioned that I could install software onto Endless, I now suspect it was already there...I was merely adding it to the desktop. And perhaps the OS updates are handled elsewhere – I simply know that apt wasn't working due to the bad repositories.
Now comes the scathing part that I'm a bit surprised to admit. Endless OS is without a doubt, the easiest to follow, best laid out for non-computer people OS I've ever seen. Endless takes the best of Ubuntu and GNOME, wraps it up with a super-easy layout that is designed for the newest of computer users and blows my mind. Still, there are some things I'd like to see added.
Endless needs parental controls. My advice here would be to setup an account for OpenDNS during the initial setup phase, using a windowed Chromium browser window to allow folks to setup content filtering. Remember, these are largely to be used by kids with parents who may not fully understand the creepy stuff available on the Web.
Endless needs working repositories. I expect and totally understand if they opted to continue with their own watered down, limited repos. That's fine, so long as the security updates are in sync with Ubuntu. This allows local techs to provide support, too.
Endless needs to offer ISOs. For flash drive copies, this isn't a big deal. But for those of us using VirtualBox, it's extra work to get things up and running. We either need to convert IMG to ISO or convert IMG to something VDI. Again, I can't think of a single reason why Endless is not offering ISO as an option. You are absolutely hindering people from trying out your distribution by using IMGs. A lot of folks test distros in VirtualBox and most folks don't know how to use VboxManage.
What say you? Perhaps you feel like both of these offerings are child platforms and aren't worth it? Have had success with Endless or ChromeOS in your neck of the woods? Whatever it may be, hit the Comments – let's here about it!