Google Chrome OS – First Impressions

5 12 2009

About - Click on image to enlarge

Google Chrome OS (Cherry) is available for download. This is a preview release of the product. Google announced earlier this year that they would be rolling out an operating system  sporting its Chrome browser. True to their word here it is!!

The current release is a bootable image and is made available for writing to a USB drive. If you are using windows and want to try it you will need a program capable of unzipping the tarball file which is intended for use with Linux. I used 7-zip to do the extraction, for some reason I had to extract the extracted file before I got to the drive image I needed to flash to the USB drive.

Menu - Click image to enlarge

The first thing you notice once you are logged in is that you are presented with the Chrome browser, there is no traditional desktop. The menu is accessed by clicking on the top left tab in the Chrome browser. These are basically shortcuts to specific websites and services. This version of the Chrome browser supports Chrome extensions, which seem to install OK without issues. It booted up in 14 seconds on an average performance USB drive. Slower than Ubuntu 9.10 on the same computer It isn’t a  fair comparison, Ubuntu booted off a fast SSD drive. While Chrome booted fine on my Acer laptop it was not able to detect either the wireless adapter or the on board ethernet. The Acer is not on the list of compatible computers, so I then booted Chrome on my ASUS Eeepc 900 which is compatible. It worked fine detecting the wireless and authenticating using WPA2 encryption.

Hulu in Chrome OS - Click to Enlarge

Out of the box Chrome is flash ready and plays Hulu and YouTube videos without problems. The EeePC had trouble keeping up with the video feed, (using Windows 7 on the fast SSD drive works much better). Video sluggishness is probably a function of using the USB drive to boot. I tested several websites, predictably the google website worked without any problems. Yahoo mail complained that the browser wasn’t supported but worked just fine after I opted to continue anyway. I didn’t notice any rendering problems on any sites. Storage to folders on the USB drive is possible with Chrome OS, it wasn’t obvious how one could browse these files at a later date except in a file open dialog presented by google docs or another web application.

There is no option in Chrome OS to shutdown the computer. I found that simply pressing the power button once initiated a controlled shutdown. Closing the netbook screen put Chrome into a suspend mode.

As I used Chrome more I noticed that it would occasionally fail to render the entire row of tabs and options, hovering over or clicking on the ‘dead space’ fixed the issue. Looks like they still have some work to do there, at least on the ASUS netbook I used.

I’m surprised the product is complete as it is already, I can see it being ready before we can collectively blink. I’ll be on the lookout for more recent builds in the coming weeks and months.

It is promising – but how popular will it really be? One is totally constrained to internet applications, which is the direction the industry is going, I’m not sure the average user is ready for total commitment to running everything in the cloud just yet. (Neither am I :-)

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