A common disagreement among Chrome OS users is whether or not Chrome OS should evolve and become more feature rich like other operating systems such as Mac, Windows, and Linux. I recently wrote a post about 5 things I want from future Chromebooks. In this article, I pointed out that Chrome OS needs to expand its feature set in order to expand its user base. For people like me who already use Chrome OS for most computing needs, I still find that I return to a PC for more advanced tasks such as photoshop, video editing and gaming.
Battle the bloat but increase the features!
With Chrome OS, one of the many features that people enjoy is the ability to have a fast, streamlined experience even when running on low powered and cheaper hardware. This is due in part to the Linux OS, which Google has used and modified as the base of Chrome OS. The other reason Chromebooks run so smoothly is due to its restrictive resource management. For the most part, when you are using a Chromebook, there is almost nothing running in the background. As I am writing this article, I’m only using about 1 GB of RAM and just about no load to the CPU besides the occasional blip from Chrome. The worry is that as more programs and features are introduced, Google will not be able to keep system resources under control. One of the main keys to keeping the resources to a minimum is by only allowing apps to update through the play store. Not having applications constantly running updates individually will decrease the load on the machine’s resources.
Historically, resource management has been a big problem for Mac and Windows. They are currently, actively trying to improve on it by encouraging their developers to utilize their respective app stores. When applications need to run in the background, the resource demands on the machine should be more easily accessible to the user via a more advanced and intuitive task manager. This would allow the user to more fully control and limit programs that are either unnecessarily running in the background or are just poorly written and hogging more than their fair share.
Higher end Machines
As higher end machines make their way into the Chrome OS world, users will demand more out of them. The Chromebook pixel and the Samsung Chromebook Pro have started this new trend. It seems to be continuing as rumors spin over new form factors like the rumored tablet style Chromebook code named “Rowan” and new features coming down the pipe like fingerprint scanner support. It seems that there is a new market emerging for higher-end Chromebooks. With more powerful machines out now and coming soon, Google laptops will grow out of the niche that they are currently in. The next people that might switch over and expand the user base are ones that will ask “Can that Chromebook do everything my PC or Mac can?” If the answer to this question is no, then they will continue to purchase what they are used to. In general, people would rather not have to buy multiple devices in order to accomplish 100% of their computing needs.
Why not just use Linux
Linux users might say that there is a simple solution right in front of me which is to use Linux as it can do everything I’m asking of Chrome OS. Technically, this is true. I can make Linux do just about anything I want, up to and including running most windows programs. In fact, before I got my first Chromebook, I did just that. Linux was my desktop of choice and I would bounce between two main distributions, Ubuntu and SuSE, both of which worked. The problem wasn’t that I couldn’t make Linux do what I wanted it to do, it was that I had to MAKE Linux do what I wanted it to do. Nothing was easy and straight forward. Making sure you installed the right dependencies for each program you were trying to run, managing repositories, and making that one vital component of your machine work because it didn’t configure correctly…these are probably the main reasons mainstream Linux distros are not as popular as their Windows and Mac rivals.
Tech savvy users often have the ability to deal with these issues. In fact, in many cases they enjoy the puzzle of figuring out each problem and get satisfaction when a good result was achieved (yes that was me, and the constant switching/configuring of distros drove my wife crazy). However, this is not the case for everyone. The average user just wants their machine to work, with little to no advanced effort.
Every year since the CR-48 (the first Chromebook) was released, sales of Chromebooks have increased. In fact, in Q1 of last year, Chromebooks outsold Macs. This has caused Microsoft and Apple to take notice and adjust their strategies to fend off a rapidly growing competitor. Microsoft has gone as far as announcing a slimmed down version of Windows that would run more efficiently on less expensive hardware. If google sticks to the mentality that Chrome OS needs no more functionality, it’s my belief that they will stagnate, the appeal will wear off and the more established two will take back their market share.
Google’s Chrome OS is at a crossroads right now. In order to grow and stay relevant, they must become a computer operating system that can handle all of their users’ demands. That being said, this must be done with caution. If they alienate their current user base, those who love Chromebooks because they enjoy their simplicity and speed, they will end up losing what made them unique and become just another bloated mess. I have faith that they can handle the transition.