Monday, 24 December 2012

The OS and the Desktop

Here is my second post in a series about using ChromeOS and the Cr-48 Chromebook and to see whether they can replace a Windows or OS X laptop.

Chrome OS

Chrome OS is Google's attempt at a fast, lightweight, desktop operating system based around their own Chrome browser. It was started by an engineer in Google who wanted to created an OS that was run entirely from the computer’s RAM. It is meant to boot fast, turn off quickly, and require less processing and battery power than a traditional desktop operating system. It allows for "apps" and "extensions" to be installed into the browser and to be used just like an app on any other operating system. However these applications are "web apps" which often appear to the user to be links to a website which provides the app's content or service.

An example of content would be the Google Drive, similar to the Dropbox and Skydrive services, it allows access to the user’s files and folders from Google’s own cloud storage from anywhere with internet access. To the Chrome OS user, it looks just like logging onto the website and going through its online file hierarchy just as it would a user logging in on their own browser, however it also allows for both ‘local’ access - where the files are downloaded to the device and ‘offline’ access, where files are saved locally and can be edited without an internet connection. Changes can then be synced back to the cloud the next time the Chromebook is connected to the internet. As someone who has used Dropbox for years, and use it as “My Documents” folder, this is something I have been doing for a long time, but it will be interesting to try to integrate this new OS into my computing work flow, after using Windows 7 and the different betas of Windows 8 on a laptop for the past year or so.


From first impressions the OS is very pretty. Google has included a good number of beautiful wallpapers and of course you can use your own. I've stuck with one of the picturesque landscape ones, but your mileage may vary! For the version I am using, the desktop appears to be a pared down version of the Windows desktop, with the dock/ tool bar at the bottom and a small list of settings in the bottom corner including a clock, WIFI connection indicator and battery capacity indicator.

Also, just like Windows, you can get rid of the dock if you don’t want it to display unless you need it or to gain extra screen real estate for everything else. You just move your cursor down to the bottom of the screen and it will pop up.

Just like other OS with a window interface Chrome OS has the icons, this time with the icons on the right-hand side like Windows. It has the typical close window cross as well as a square icon which when you hover over it gives you several different options, to maximise, minimise and pin to the left and right. These icons can be clicked or the cursor dragged and clicked to them. I like these options being available, and it does give a good differentiation between Chrome OS, Windows and OS X.

Apps are accessible from a small icon that when pressed reveals a popup that shows a list of apps that are installed on the Chromebook. Each can then be right-clicked to give options as to how it opens and dragged to the dock just like on a Mac or PC.

Sadly these app icons appear in the order they have been installed on the device. There is no way to drag them to the pages you want like the functionality of OS X’s Launchpad app or the folders on iOS and Android. This disappoints me slightly, but I have just put my most-used apps in the dock and access them from there. I can also use the keyboard and press the “Search” button which has replaced the Caps lock key and type in the name of the app I want to open. The desktop works well enough for me, and other than that minor problem with the apps drawer, I like it.

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