Chrome OS, MS Windows OS, OS X, Steam OS end of year reflections and expectations

Chrome OS, MS Windows OS, OS X, Steam OS end of year reflections and expectations
Various operating systems

Chrome OS’s thing in 2013 has been, mainly, it’s long wrought fight to become more appealing; to shed the stigma of being less of an OS and more of a fancy browser running directly on the hardware (like some of those BIOS barebone software suites that modern UEFI BIOSes have made possible). No, 2013 has not been the year of drastic change for Chrome. It’s been, however, the year of bits and pieces of maintenance work, and of trying to appeal more to Microsoft Windows and OS X crowds. But, rather, not in the paying-a-homage type mentality, but more in a reaching-similar-conclusions, though from different perspectives kind of thing!

Probably, less noticeable for those that use but a handful of applications, Chrome has also underwent changes in terms of how it handles its own Google apps versus everyone else’s. The Google “approved” ones have become easier to install, more streamlined and, as expected, more prominent in the Google Play repository. But, about this changing our perception in terms of platform politics, a little later.

For now, let’s consider a regular productive day cycle in Chrome, so we can happen onto some of the hurdles that the OS is home to, while also trying to find out what issues are no longer plaguing the system.

A productive day in Chrome OS

As I’m mainly a freelance writer, I hardly ever need to mess around with Photoshop, let alone do any video capture or editing work in Chrome. Still, there are some times when I find myself frustrated by Chrome, even with the simplest of tasks. Mainly for ever-so-often kind of tasks, for which I don’t already have a go to application.

So, what happens for a new Chrome user migrating from Windows to Chrome is learning to hunt for applications, learn what sort of plug-in software you need, and being flexible enough to overcome that initial frustration that can creep in.

So, for instance, it took me quite a bit of time to find a suite that had enough oomph and straightforwardness to use for some low level image editing (and sometimes, for that one-time task that needed something very specific, that you haven’t already figured an application for, since it’s not something you bump into frequently!).

What I needed to do was your usual run-of-the-mill cropping and resizing with the additional red-eye reduction. I eventually narrowed it down to Pixlr, but, coming from a background where I used Adobe Elements, (which still had of on-the-hard drive principle), it took me a bit of getting used to. However, towards the end of 2013, I had become more accustomed to it, figured the proper workload step-by-step. While more a question of getting used to the tool, also, for me, it demonstrated that Chrome had it in itself to allow you to get the work done, but indeed, it was I that needed a bit of an education!

The usual writing and text editing I found even easier and more streamlined, and also more accident-proof in case of a random system reboot or crash, or some other similar issue.

With my Windows setup, I’d was used to swapping files thumb drive style from my desktops to my laptops and vice versa; always a bit afraid of forgetting to get some files synchronized, or copying the wrong file; with my cloud account I’m always a lot more intrinsically organized, knowing that it’s all there, with chances of file loss or misplacement reduced almost to null.

Instant messaging difficulties

Chrome OS wants you to use Hangouts! And, while I could be persuaded to just do that, many others still insist on using yer olde Yahoo Messenger or some other apps! But, employing Hangouts as well as Trillian that issue was (almost) solved.

Still, what lingers as a question is why other developers don’t just write applications that will do the simple trick of using multiple windows, you know, allowing you to interface with an instant messaging app like you would on any other OS: your main window with your contacts in one window, your instant message boxes in separate windows. Basically, to simulate a classic IM application environment…

What I think it is, unfortunately, is that Google is trying to promote their own platform, rather than allow Chrome apps to become available either on those other platforms, perceived as competition, (Windows and OS X , namely). And, this is, it seems, part of a developer mindset flaw as well – getting applications to open more than one webpage at a time. It’s not that the OS doesn’t allow it, but for some reason that developers have yet to properly use it, aren’t yet used to doing it as an everyday modus operandi.

If you’re planning on using DropBox in Chrome, you’re going to have a (relatively) bad day!

Here’s an unfortunate example of Chrome undermining itself, so as to promote its own cloud capabilities and storage… I mean, I used DropBox consistently on Windows and I knew it was usable without issues on Mac OS.

However, in Chrome DropBox you are denied unpacking of zip files, image previewing; plus no editing is available either. Which is a sword with two edges, because even if I were to impose it on myself to give DropBox up, others that send me files DropBox style may not be persuaded to choose an alternative method…

More aggravating is the fact that on Mac OS and Windows all of these options are available, which, again, raises the question of political agendas undermining Chrome. Quite bleak…
Yap, you can use DropBox Syncing, but you’ll have to do some digging for that one, plus it feels like a patch, like a last minute fix, not as well, “natural” way to get things done.

So, yeah, if there is something to look forward in 2014, it would be DropBox working (properly!) in Chrome. Lack of flexibility is not particularly a Chrome only issue; it is a general OS problem. Probably it would be less of a hassle if Chrome was used by many more; however, truth is, Chrome is more interoperable with other OSes than any other OS has ever been. But, yeah, I’d love for Chrome to be the freer OS, the one that can support users coming from OS X and Windows as well as Linux.

Other OSes and Chrome

I won’t go as deep into details about Microsoft’s OS moves in 2013 or the meaty OS X Mavericks update, but, definitely, there are common threads and ideas worth mentioning. What I think we’re noticing, beginning with 2013, though signs of this were always looming about for as long as OS competition has been around, is a move towards closed platforming from all parts. Maybe less evident in the case of OS X, which has always been a closed platform by design, but Microsoft wasn’t that kind of player…up until now.

Also, in a very specific way (the way Win8 aggregates Windows Start page results from web results as well as from your own file system, to offer an info page on that keyword you searched for) Microsoft has veered towards a closer, more tightly knit combination of online and off-line data management for their OS, in my view taking cues from Chrome. Maybe they were targeting that ever before Chrome showed that it is a viable way of producing an OS, but, nonetheless, I think that in the future the “battleground” of the OSes will be won by the one OS that manages to integrate the web in the most useful of ways in the fabric of the OS itself.

And that raises questions about closed platform development, as the future might not bring about diversity and interoperability, but rather cannibalization of the market, where users in one ecosystem become less capable of interacting with one another. Which, in my opinion is quite a bleak prospect, yet again!

Also of note, for the end of 2013, especially from a (hardcore PC) gamers’ perspective, the recent unveiling and deployment of the Steam Boxes with their proprietary OS, has also been of quite some notice.

If Steam should catch some OS ground, we’re probably going to have a true replacement for Win7 for gamers. Which, is actually for the better, as Microsoft is surely going to keep barricading itself in its Metro walled garden, allowing more open minded platforms space to breathe and develop an audience.

Yeah, maybe Chrome OS users don’t care as much about (hardcore) gaming, not on the Chrome OS platform, at least, but, definitely, this could well be a point on which Chrome catches some more ground, by trying to offer what Windows7 used to offer for gaming in the past (yes, I know, it’s farfetched, but as a long-term project definitely worth looking into, for Google).

Still, it’s too early to see where it is all going, for Chrome and for everyone else, but I’m pretty sure that Google’s main priorities for 2014 will still be in the area of dismantling the many false preconceived ideas of what Chrome is and whom it addresses. Which is also what we wish for the OS!

That and, hopefully, a move (this time from the part of developers) towards meatier applications, so as to make the OS a home for more expansive software suites, so as to expand the base of users, becoming a home for more.

So, don’t forget to let us know what your OS of choice has been in 2013, whether it was a combination of OS X and Chrome, or some Win (hopefully 7!) with Chrome, or whether you feel more compelled now to try some Chrome for yourself, if you haven’t already, in whatever combination or on its own!

As always, your comments are appreciated!

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