FIRST LOOK: Chrome OS. Why lack of storage could be its downfall

SearchStorage ANZ has a quick look at Chrome OS and finds it makes us yearn for a C: drive while offering no notable enhancements to the online experience.

Chrome OS, Google’s operating system for netbooks, is at present an unremarkable operating system that offers an experience only very slightly different to that of working in the company’s Chrome Web browser.

SearchStorage ANZ tested Chrome OS as a guest operating system under Sun’s VirtualBox on a 2.13Ghz dual-core PC with two gigabytes of RAM. We assigned 512 megabytes of RAM to Chrome OS. Performance was a little staccato, but we are happy attributing that the vagaries of virtualisation and the fact that the OS was a pre-Alpha developer edition. Furthermore, the version we tested was created as a VMware .vmdk file, a format that VirtualBox supports but which is not its native format for a virtual disk.

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The operating system starts up with a sign-on screen that requires a Google account. There is currently no option we could see allowing users to create an account, in case they do not already possess one, an inconvenience that will surely be corrected by the time the OS is released to wider audiences.

Above: The Chrome OS log-in screen. Below: Chrome OS at work displaying a web page.

Once the OS starts, you are presented with the Chrome browser which operates as it does on any other computer.

The major change to the browser is the inclusion of a “Welcome” tab offering icons which link to popular web applications. Sadly, some like video streaming service Hulu.com and music service Lala.com are currently geo-blocked for Australian and New Zealand users, a fact that serves to highlight the potentially narrow appeal of a computer reliant on web applications.

Above: The Chrome OS Welcome Screen. Below: Chrome OS' networking control panel and associated icons.

Another new inclusion is a small set of controls at top right. One controls network connections, the other opens dialogs found under Chrome’s “spanner” icon. That icon remains in place, creating the odd arrangement of having the same menu available in different locations just a few pixels apart.

Above: Chrome OS' control panel.

Overall, there’s not much that can be said about Chrome OS. Using its browser is the same as using any other browser.

Yet as we preserved with the OS, we developed a nagging feeling that a browser alone is not a great way to experience the Net. Web applications may be tremendously useful and increasingly powerful and sophisticated. But Chrome OS currently offers no organising principle for the Web.

That may not be an issue today, because current desktop operating systems let users store files locally, creating a hub from which they can they assign data to applications.

Chrome OS has no such feature we could detect and the more we used it and imagined life with nothing but a browser, the more our imagination’s output started to make us uncomfortable. Imagine, for example, deciding to create a slideshow of some recent photos accompanied by music. Myriad desktop tools make this possible today. As it stands, Chrome OS would make that task harder as it is very tricky to, for example, pick images from Flickr or Picasa, make Animoto aware of them and then add a soundtrack from Lala.

Some may say that kind of task is not what netbooks are for, to which we argue that mobility should not mean lesser utility.

Google has outlined further developments to Chrome OS’s interface. We expect many more such enhancements will be necessary to make the operating system attractive, because without tools that let users of the OS at least visualise or locate data that is important to them across the web apps they work with, Chrome OS will make the web feel like disconnected islands of functionality, rather than something new and wonderful.

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