Google Chrome OS: Less is (Not) More

After the initial buzz of receiving the Cr-48 Chrome OS notebook and playing around with it, I'm suddenly feeling a little underserved.

Why? Because it just doesn't do enough to delight my full-featured PC operating system sensibilities. And I'm not alone here. The chorus of negative impressions of the Cr-48 is getting louder as people realize it's a small notebook that connects you to a browser, and your options are to surf the Web and access Web apps or...um...well...that's your only option.

For more details on what the Cr-48 can and can't do, click here for a breakdown by Network World's Jon Brodkin.

The challenge that the one-dimensional Chrome notebook faces is that PC users are accustomed to a certain way of working (and playing) when their laptops are turned on. The reason all modern PC operating system designs (Windows, Mac OS, Linux) include a desktop, a taskbar, a file and folder system, offline access to applications, a Start menu, etc. is because PEOPLE LIKE IT THAT WAY. Of course, Windows can be slow to start up and shut down and it doesn't age well. But this is certainly tolerable given all its myriad features and functions. And the Mac OS? All Mac users do is gush about it.

If there were user groups clamoring for a PC operating system that connects to a browser and does little else, I must not have heard their pleas for simplicity.

With that said, the Cr-48 notebook is just a prototype and one assumes the generic, rubbery hardware and stubborn trackpad will be improved when these things roll out for real. This is not a formal review of the device, but I can say that it does boot up, go to sleep, reawaken, and shut down quicker than any netbook or notebook I've ever used. Its browser is damn fast and it installs Web apps instantly (I just installed the New York Times app from the Chrome Web Store on the Cr-48 in, no joke, a nanosecond).

That's all great, but it's just a small part of what most users want and need a laptop to do. The Chrome OS is like a pretty glass house with shiny hardwood floors and a giant HD flat-screen mounted on the wall in the living room. But there's no garage, no stove, no closets, no refrigerator, no toilet. OK, maybe there's a toilet.

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So I ask: What will laptop and smartphone owners see in Chrome OS notebooks when they become generally available in mid-2011? Not much, unless they cost $100 or less. Then it becomes more appealing as a secondary device to take with you on vacation or give to your 10-year-old daughter. And with this week's news that the price of conventional PCs are actually going up after dropping for years, the Chrome OS notebooks could stand out by being cheap, cheap, cheap.

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