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Google Chrome OS 18 October update – A step in the right direction

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Chrome OSGoogle’s Chrome OS can still be classified as a novelty piece. But it’s no longer as alone as it used to be in the kind of universe it created for itself. Everybody in the software business is trying to take as much as possible into the cloud these days and OS features are no exception.

The newly launched Windows 8 for instance has done away with many of its past staple features – no start button, no installs except of apps from the Microsoft app store (Note how even the word “app” has permeated the Microsoft vocabulary. Microsoft never before used the word “app” to describe its software and programs – which indicates, to the extent that linguistics can, that they’re going with the modern “flow”, emblazoning themselves for the new generation who seems to want ‘coolness” from software as well!), and for Windows 8 RT, an even more restricted access to apps.

Therefore, Chrome OS is in a sense ahead of the curve – gearing towards becoming nothing more than a thin client, while the interesting things happen in the cloud. This comes as no surprise though, as Google has always been at the forefront of SaaS (software as a service) implementation.

One reason why taking the party to the cloud is such an important thing for Google, has to do with control, imposing restrictions. Control of applications, usage, restricting people from stealing and modifying code and so on. On the other hand, there are also advantages for the end user:

Storing data in the cloud and transporting the entire managerial portion along with it means that the data is always available, not just for one individual but for larger teams or for the same individual from multiple devices and locations. Also, data is more secure at least when it comes to physical issues occurring to the devices used to manipulate that data, but less so when it comes to the security from online threats, which will continue to plague such environments.

Either way, there are ways to mitigate the safety issues, so, on the long run and for most intents and purposes, most users don’t mind if it is stored locally or not.

Google’s Chrome OS is still not a perfect cloud OS or rather portal to the cloud, and it still has a lot of ground to cover. Since 2011, when Chromebook netbooks were launched with Chrome OS, there have been constant incremental changes brought forth to clean the user interface and to make the entire OS more usable and friendly.

So, without further ado, let’s see what has changed, specifically after the 2012 October update.

Chrome OS Interface Improvements:

Finally, Chrome OS has included a stand alone, fully fledged and much desired desktop, doing away with the former, browser-like interface. In terms of looks, the environment feels quite a lot like Windows 7, which is without question a good thing.

All applications can now be accessed by clicking their dedicated icons, and you can arrange them, delete them, just like on any other desktop. Also, on the lower right corner you now have your basic information about battery, connectivity and clock.

You can assign any background image to your desktop as long as it is stored locally or in the cloud. Pictures available through third party services (social media sites, media repositories) cannot be directly used unless they’re downloaded locally.

Settings

Setting many of the features of the OS used to be quite a hassle – they were poorly organized and a new user could get lost quite easily. No more, as the new settings have a tab allocated to them, and do not affect (some) settings globally, but target their intended changes more clearly.

Tabs have also changed their location and are now available on the top of the so called “Omnibar” – the actual taskbar of the desktop environment.

Minimalism and cleanliness dominates this environment, and it seems to be heavily inspired by a combination of Apple OS X features and Windows 7. No complaints here.

Chrome browser

Most of the activities on Chrome OS will begin from within the Chrome browser. Some polish and design has been put into it as well, but mainly it is the same browser that some love and others loathe. The loathing is mainly a question of the limited degree to which the browser environment can actually be extended or modified with add-ons. The same reluctance to cooperate can be said to be true of this Chrome browser version, but instead of blaming it on a lack of polish, it is more a decision taken by Google to keep it sealed, so, love it or hate it, there’s little to be done. Also, you can’t install other browsers, so better get used to it.

Caps Lock vs. Search key

One unfortunate choice made by Google was to assign the Caps key to the Search function, which in the previous version of the OS would only deploy a new tab. However, a workaround is now available – Go to Settings – System – Modifier Keys – pick the new binding of your choice and restore Caps lock to its “normal” function.

Sleep to awake streamlined

In older versions you would sometimes experience lag when reverting from sleep to normal operation mode. No more, as the setting has most probably been tweaked to reduce lagging to a halt.

Google Play has been integrated into the local OS

Although not a crucial development, it was requested by a lot of individuals; Google listened and now you have access to the streaming service from within the platform.

Google Drive capacity boosted to 100 GB

The former capacity available at no cost was 5GB, quite stifling for those that worked with large files on a regular basis. 100 GB of always online storage for free is more than enough for most tasks.

Unclear delineation between apps and website applications

This was to be expected, but the unfortunate fact is that if you have a limited access plan, not knowing when or if an app will access the network can lead to exceeding costs or consuming all the bandwidth you have available.

Conclusions

Chrome OS is without a doubt on the right path, the new changes have tackled issues that were really a major turn-off in the previous versions, and the OS will continue to improve. This will most likely pit it into becoming more competitive, and, if Google will ever consider delivering a version for desktops, the netbook OS is a good platform to experiment and sharpen it.

However, Google Chrome OS still feels a bit underpowered; especially for those that work with a lot of files locally, but otherwise, for its intended cloud audience it manages the tasks and workload without issues. In a sentence, Google Chrome OS 18 October update is a better OS than previous versions.

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