Back in 2012, I did a comparison between Chrome OS and Ubuntu. I examined the areas where each operating system differed and I also touched on a few of their similarities. In this piece, I'll take it a step further and examine how Chrome OS is close to filling the OS gap, yet might need some improvements in key areas before the masses begin dumping Windows to migrate to it.
At the current price, Chromebooks have what it takes to be popular – sub-$300 is pretty compelling to those of us on a budget. Yet even with the demand we've seen with Chromebooks on Amazon and other vendors, it's still limited to a few models from which to choose from. For the lower cost machines, you're basically looking at only two brands – Acer and Samsung. On the plus side, other big names are building Chromebooks of their own, so this may become less of an issue down the road.
Based on the sales trends, Google might hope that the Chromebook can one day unseat Windows and OS X in the marketplace, at least with casual computer users. I beg to differ, however. While it's true that most people live within their web browsers these days, the idea that a computer built entirely around the Chrome browser is a stretch.
The list of applications we use on our computers is extensive. While some of these applications can be substituted with extensions, not all can be. For example, you'd be hard pressed to find suitable alternatives for Skype, Microsoft Office, local printing, Dropbox and Firefox.
Take Skype for example. At this time, if you're looking to use Skype on your Chromebook you are out of luck. Instead, you'll need to use your web browser, Chrome, if you wish to have a video chat with friends. Even worse, you must convince people to use Google Hangouts vs Skype, which isn't as easy as it might sound. Even though there are a multitude of instant messaging extensions available for Chrome that work with various chat protocols, none of them offer video chat options with Skype.
Next up is Microsoft Office, which is arguably difficult to replace with Google Drive. Don't get me wrong, Google Drive is handy, but it's not nearly as full featured as a local office suite. Using Google's spreadsheet, for example, lacks finesse when exporting some spreadsheets into an Excel file format. Overall, I feel that local office suites offer a level of control not found within Google Drive.
Then there's the issue of printing. If you have a Google friendly printer that supports Cloud Printing, then this won't really be an issue for you. If you're like me and are still using an older all-in-one printer, then you're going to be very disappointed. You have to have your legacy printer connected to an active PC or Mac to print from a Chromebook. If you don't invest in a newer Cloud supported printer, you'll need a separate PC (left on) to print to. This issue alone leaves me feeling uneasy about relying on Chrome OS for casual users.
And finally, from the above application list, there's Dropbox. Even though there are extensions that provide limited Dropbox uploading functionality for Chrome OS, there isn't an option for proper two-way syncing between the Web and your Chromebook. Instead, the best that Chrome OS extensions have to offer is one-way syncing.
What Chrome OS needs to make the Chromebook even more successful is relatively simple. First, more choices outside of lower budget notebook models. Good mid-range notebooks running Chrome OS would be a welcome change from the hot and cold options with existing Chromebooks. Choosing between a $250 Chromebook or a $1500 Chromebook Pixel leaves a lot of opportunity in-between.
The second thing that must be addressed is support for Linux compatible printers. Considering that Chrome OS has Linux roots, I wouldn't think that unleashing the already vast list of compatible legacy printers would be that much to ask. Not everyone has a second PC or a Cloud friendly printer on hand, after all.