Those who know me best are quick to let me know: I’m a touch stubborn on certain matters. But there is one area where I’ve found myself caving to the pressures of reality. In this article, I’ll make a case for why I believe ChromeOS might end up winning the OS wars.
Desktop operating systems are dangerous
Much like mishandling a sharp stick, any operating system that easily allows you to access root or super user powers is potentially dangerous. In 2015, the single biggest threat to your computer’s security is sitting at your desk, typing on your keyboard. This is why more people than ever are gravitating towards tablets, smart phones and yes, Chromebooksas their main computing device.
All of these devices come locked down so that accessing something dangerous to that device is much more difficult to do. Whether you run rm -r / on a Mac or on Linux, or install something terrible on Windows – there are simply too many opportunities for the less tech savvy to destroy their operating system installation.
To be clear: I’m not suggesting that everyone in the world should abandon their current desktop operating system. Doing so would be impractical at best, potentially disastrous at worst. What I’m suggesting is that regardless of how we feel about it, ChromeOS is in many ways the winning operating system for casual users.
Unlike power users who are able to use their systems successfully, here I’m addressing the casual Windows user. The one with fifteen tool bars in their browser. The person who has three security suites running and none of them have been updated since installation. This goes out to those individuals, the frequent visitors to their local PC repair technician.
Now let’s go farther and take a hard look at Windows 10. Putting aside my own personal feelings about the release, I want to address some core issues that remain untouched.
Default browser – It’s widely known the Edge browser doesn’t always render things correctly. Reports thus far indicate that most people are using Chrome over Edge on Windows 10. You know, the browser that is provided by ChromeOS?
Hardware compatibility– Like with any self-installable OS, you have to make sure your hardware is compatible. My experience in this space reflects my past experiences with 7 and 8 – older peripherals and notebooks are largely left out in the cold.
Need your ath9k wireless chipset to work? Good luck with that. Interested in changing your touchpad’s behavior? Not happening on the test machines I’ve tried. I’ve also heard that most Windows 8 compatible notebooks are working, but anything older has been hit and miss with regard to specific components. The official line from hardware vendors is to try other drivers in compatibility mode. With ChromeOS, the operating system is baked into the notebook. The same can also be said about notebooks that have the Made for Windows 10 logo on them.
Updates – Despite Microsoft’s best efforts, Windows 10 isn’t providing a flawless update experience by any stretch. Not to pick on Windows, this happens to OS X and Linux as well. ChromeOS on Chromebooks, historically, doesn’t have any significant issues with updates.
Macs share a similar support model to Chromebooks. Both are setup to minimize frustration, but there are still differences. Macs, like Windows, are able run thousands of software titles. But Mac also has its own issues that frustrate me.
Planned obsolescence – This is something that PC vendors do as well. I’m not taking issue with this per se, as I realize Apple (and others) need to keep their company profitable. I do, however, feel like it’s wasteful to herd folks into buying new hardware even if their old hardware still works. PPC Macs for example, despite their age, run great and I think still have value. Chromebooks to date haven’t experienced this issue. Another ChromeOS advantage is that the software is all run offsite, on a server. So older and newer Chromebooks all share a similar experience for the most part, thanks to ChromeOS.
Cost – Macs simply cost more money. If you’re a Mac user, this isn’t an issue and you’re fine with that since it provides the end to end experience you need. But when you compare the hardware specs, most other PCs simply cost less. By comparison, Chromebooks provide a larger range in pricing since the specs range from the low end to the higher end Pixel.
Updates – In fairness to Apple, updates usually go pretty well. That said, if you didn’t think to setup a TimeMachine backup or something else to help restore your system to its original state, you’re on your own. Even though some stuff is stored in in the cloud with OS X, software titles are not part of that backup. ChromeOS stores your data in the cloud as well. And since all of the ChromeOS software is based around the browser, there are no issues with reinstalling software or looking for CDs (if you still use such things. Remember, iCloud is about syncing. Google Drive is about storage, syncing is an afterthought).
As a biased Linux enthusiast, I’m going to be completely forthcoming. Linux on the desktop is not for everyone. Since there’s no such thing as a Linux store, you can’t run in really quick when you come across an issue. It’s up to you and your ability to seek help from the community. Obvious exceptions to this are if you’re someone who has a support contract with a Linux provider. But for home users, you’re left to the Linux community should you need assistance.
Breaking the installation – Rare as it may be on fixed release distributions, it can happen. Sometimes it’s the user’s doing, other times it’s an update that goes wrong. The closest thing to a reset switch you’ll find with Linux on the desktop is to either fix the issue yourself or re-install. With ChromeOS, it’s almost impossible to mess something up. If you manage to, however, just reset the laptop and you’re done.
Connectivity – I’ve found with most distros that support proprietary driver availability, getting your wifi device working is pretty darn simple. That said, it’s not a promise that all chipsets are going to play ball. Because there are so many options out there, you will need to test and/or do your research first before installing your distro of choice onto a notebook. With Chromebooks, wifi works because of how tightly controlled the entire ecosystem is. Chromebooks come with a set chipsest and ChromeOS simply detects it.
Chromebooks simply work
In the explanation above, I decided to touch on the strongest issues for each platform and why Chromebooks or, should I say, ChromeOS beat it in terms of being completely idiot proof. This does not mean that businesses are going to be doing pro-level work on this platform. After all, Linux, Windows and OS X are capable of doing a lot more in terms of overall functionality than ChromeOS. But when it comes to those who simply need access to web services like ChromeOS provides, Chromebooks make a lot of sense.
Despite rumors to the contrary, ChromeOS isn’t going anyplace. Google is going even further by offering a new product called Chromebit. At a $100 price point, I think we’re going to see a lot of older OS holdouts making the switch.
As for myself, I’ll continue to be a big supporter of the Linux desktop. Both by using it and providing support for it as well. As for users of OS X and Windows, I think those who have software needs in that space will continue to use those platforms as well.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.