Whether you just take the odd look at Google Maps or run your whole life with its online organisers, chances are you’re familiar with Google’s apps. Chrome OS takes this ubiquity to its logical conclusion, reducing an entire operating system to a browser and a bunch of Google accounts. That simplicity means it can run on very basic hardware, with all the storage and number-crunching handled by Google’s servers.
Very little is stored on the hardware, so you need an internet connection. Chrome boots straight into a web browser and never leaves it. Not being able to close the browser window feels weird, but you get used to it. You can ‘install’ apps from the Chrome Web Store – they run within the browser, but are added to your apps home screen.
The Chrome browser is fast, safe and knows its HTML5 onions. Its minimalist face hides easily accessible features that make it simple to customise with plug-ins. Which is a relief, considering you can’t close it.
Apps come up short – there’s Google’s productivity suite for day-to-day stuff, and there are a smattering of interesting creative tools in the Chrome Web Store. Software born out of the web – social networking clients and the like – is at home, but gaming is Chrome’s Achilles’ Heel. Everything we found was snack-size, though cloud gaming services such as OnLive should eventually solve that.
There’s an experimental media player hidden in Chrome OS, a sign that Google may alter its web-only ways. It didn’t work for us, but with iPlayer and Spotify this wasn’t a problem – and when Google Music makes its way to Chrome OS, we can’t imagine needing it again.
We tested Chrome OS on Google’s Cr-48 reference laptop, produced purely to showcase the fledgling OS. The spec is similar to that of a very basic netbook: no optical drive, Atom CPU and 16GB of solid-state storage: it boots in seconds. It’s not for sale, but Acer and Samsung are releasing similar Chromebooks soon.