ChromeOS: iPhone OS 1.0, 2.0.

It’s been almost three months since I’ve blogged last. I’m really sorry about that. Shortly after writing my last blog post, the Eleven project began, and I’ve been focused on that lately. That, and I just haven’t found the inspiration to blog in quite awhile. Until now.

Sometimes, you find a product that makes you think, “How does this even exist? The idea behind it is so dumb!” The new Asus Chromebox (and Chromeboxes, and ChromeOS products in general, but especially Chromeboxes) is the poster child of such products. Chromebooks made zero sense. Chromeboxes make even less sense (negative one sense?). As implied by the title, this post is intended as a critique of ChromeOS in general, but I’d first like to address Chromeboxes, as they seem to be a special kind of pointless.

WTF is a Chromebox?

A Chromebox is a desktop running ChromeOS. ChromeOS’s supposed “advantage” is battery life, so I don’t quite get the point of running it on a desktop (or anything else for that matter, because it’s useless, but that’s a matter for another part of this post…).

Why would anyone want that?

Because apparently Google’s marketing machine is good at convincing people to buy things that are totally useless. The point of a desktop is to do the things you can’t do with a laptop. ChromeOS only does web browsing. And last I checked, any decent laptop can do that just fine. Buying a desktop just for web browsing would be like buying a semi truck to haul your canoe. What’s more, apparently they’re making a version of this thing with an i7. I kid you not. I’m not really sure what kind of web sites you’re visiting that demand an i7 to use them, but that sounds like more of a problem with web developers than with computer hardware…

I should make clear at this point that I’m not trying to suggest Chromebooks are a sensible product with my “desktops are supposed to be more capable than laptops” line. I, like any sensible customer, expect my laptop to do a fair bit as well. It can’t run intense games or multiple VM’s, but my laptop (a 13″ rMBP with an i5 and 8GB RAM) is capable of most other tasks I’d ever need a computer for, including a fair bit of dev work. As an extension of my philosophy, a laptop should be able to do more than a phone or tablet. And my phone and tablet (Nexus 5 and 7, respectively) can run apps. Something a Chromebook can only dream of (unless of course you erase it and put a real Linux distro on it, although Chrome “OS” is supposed to be its primary selling point).

That title still makes no sense.

I indeed meant for this post to slam ChromeOS in general. But I needed to rant specifically about Chromeboxes first, just because. So, about that title…

Remember iPhone OS 1.0?

It had no apps. Aside from crappy web apps, which as far as I know, nobody ever used. And the iPhone is renowned primarily for its app ecosystem (note: I’m an Android user, and even I acknowledge this).

Art called Steve “half a dozen times to lobby for the potential of the apps,” according to the book, but Steve was against them

If it were up to Steve Jobs, the iPhone would not have native apps, arguably its defining characteristic. This was the origin of iOS jailbreaking – people were fed up with the limited capabilities of (surprise!) web apps.

The demand for native apps on iOS was so high that the hand of the infamously stubborn Steve Jobs was forced into giving in. Seriously, remember how he brushed off the fairly serious Antennagate as “You’re holding it wrong”? In the mind of Jobs, the demand for apps must’ve many times more serious, in order to actually cause him to relent. And because of this, iOS, a platform that originally shipped without native app support, became renowned for its native app ecosystem. In short, ditching web apps was the best thing that ever happened to iOS.

Go home Google, you’re drunk

Google should take note. If native apps are so essential on a phone, they’re that much more essential on a laptop, and definitely more so on a desktop. You’re not doing anyone any favors by dumbing down the computing experience to that extent. Once again, look at Apple. They’ve managed to create a system that’s “idiot-proof” without limiting their OS to the role of a glorified web browser. That, and Google’s strategy seems a little… incoherent? Their mobile OS isn’t dumbed down at all. But their desktop OS is? Am I missing something here? Or maybe not. Google is somewhat infamous for throwing ideas at the wall then seeing what sticks (Chromeboxes certainly haven’t stuck, as I don’t know anybody who owns one, and neither have Chromebooks, as I’ve only ever seen one in the wild).

ChromeOS is almost an insight into the road not taken by Apple – what if Steve Jobs didn’t back down, and iOS remained nothing but a haven for poorly-crafted web apps? It would be jeered at and mocked by tech culture, and everyone else would be blissfully unaware of the fact that it even exists. I’m no fan of Microsoft, but… they’re right:

I’ve come to the conclusion that ChromeOS isn’t meant to be taken as a serious product. It’s just another Google experiment – a public beta test. Google themselves don’t use it (I believe they use Macs internally). They know it isn’t a usable product. If Google really wants to make a desktop OS, they should use Android as a base. Or Ubuntu or some other Linux distro. Add the Play Store, and allow Android apps to run in windowed mode (also, please do this on tablets as well while you’re at it). People do actually expect to do things with their computers. And there’s nothing a Chromebox, or a Chromebook for that matter, can do that a desktop or laptop running OS X, Windows, or Linux can’t do. Meanwhile, these systems can do so much more. Even OpenOffice (or LibreOffice, or whatever they’re calling it these days) trumps Google Docs by a longshot. Oh, and it works without an internet connection.

What says it all? I was at Best Buy a few months ago, and I wanted to try out a Chromebook, just so I could bash it fairly. An employee found it necessary to inform me that it’s just a web browser. “I know.” Apparently they get a lot of complaints from people who buy them and then return them or something. I can just picture the typical consumer:

Consumer: I can’t install any programs on my laptop.

Employee: It’s a Chromebook.

Consumer: So? It’s got Chrome on it? It’s a laptop. Surely it does something useful as well.

Employee: Nope.

Consumer: Oh? Why would Google make something so useless? I’m not buying Google or Chrome anything anymore.

It’s like Windows RT all over again (remember all the stories/discussion about users who don’t understand how it doesn’t run any of their Windows apps?). It’s supposedly intended to target your average “idiot” consumer. But your average “idiot” consumer can’t understand what it is and isn’t capable of, expects it to be just like any other laptop, buys it, and gets confused (then probably returns it).

TL;DR ChromeOS is tarnishing Google’s reputation, and there are two groups of people: its target market, whom it will confuse the ever-living crap out of, as they (understandably – people should expect their desktop OS to be more capable than iPhone OS 1.0) aren’t capable of understanding its limitations; and geeks, who know that it’s useless.

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