Is A Browser All We Need?

Google’s Chrome OS gains popularity within the world of computers and their minimalist approach is triggering my curiosity. Google powers 53% of the education computing sector, outperforming Apple and Microsoft. And beneath the system lies a simple principle which sounds both intruiging and silly: You don’t need an operating system, you just need a browser. At least, that’s what Google implies. Is it true, though?

In order to figure out whether this claim is valid or not, I decided to install CloudReady, a Chromium OS based Operating system that turns (old) Laptops and PCs into Chromebooks. This article is written within Chrome OS using the editor. And I have to admit: I am amazed.

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What is CloudReady / Chromium OS?

First I want to introduce you to CloudReady (a.k.a. Chromium OS). Chromium OS is the Open Source project by Google which is built around the Chromium Browser (the Open Source version of Chrome). Usually the hirarchy would be: 1. Kernel, 2. Operating System 3. Programms like the Browser. But Google makes a clean cut and basically makes the web browser its’ Operating System.

This results in an incredible start-up speed of a few seconds and after you logged in a browser tab opens up, ready to start your online journey. The system around Chromium OS is lean and simple. You can install apps via the online Chrome Store. Most applications are entirely web-based, but there are some that can be executed offline as well.

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My Experience with Chromium OS

Chrome OS (or rather CloudReady OS) is working like a champ. It’s fluent, efficient, boots up in 5 to 10 seconds (thanks to my SSD) and even supports some Android apps.

A nice addition is that you don’t need internet connection for everything: Some apps like Google Docs support offline access, which is nice if you are a student sitting in a lecture without wifi. Thanks to pre-installed CUPS your printer is very likely to be supported and the set-up is rather easy, especially if it supports network printing.

If you want to use Netflix, you can install proprietary third-party extensions with one mouse-click in the settings. The support for services (especially if they have a Web-App) is amazing: Amazon Kindle/Music, Spotify, Google Play Music, Netflix, Evernote and more, just to name a few. Since the popularity of Chrome OS is rising, the support by developers will do as well.

A couple of weeks ago the latest release included support for the Linux containter format flatpak, which lets you install Desktop Applications like LibreOffice, Blender or Gimp. But as a consumer it is more likely that everything you need is somewhere within the Chrome App Store. They also included VirtualBox. If you want to run Windows or a GNU/Linux Distro within CloudReady, you can just set-up a virtual machine.

There are two issues I have to address, however: 1) Some heavy-weight programms like the Adobe Creative Suite or video games are not supported (yet). If your profession relies on them, I would not reccomend using CloudReady on your main machine. 2) If you dislike Google and their privacy-invading practises, this is not for you. Chromium OS has Google Drive implementation and even though it’s Open Source, it will not give you the freedom you probably want. It will not watch you sleep at night, but Google collects some data to improve their services and ad sense system. You can opt-out of most things within your Google account settings but it is a fair amount of work to go through everything. (But to be fair, as soon as you use any Google service, the work is there, which makes the issue independent of Chrome OS).

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I have to admit: I usually am a GNU/Linux loving person who likes to tinker on a system until it works the way I want it to work. But I can’t resist Chrome OS (or rather CloudReady). It just works so well. I don’t have to worry about the design, updates, incompabilities, package-managers, updating the software regulary. Chrome OS does everything for me on its’ own. It was designed to be used by anybody and if you don’t know a lot about tech, this might be worth checking out, especially if you have an old laptop or PC lying around. To answer the question of this essay: No. At least I need a little more. But it feels like a glimpse into the future, in which only professionals and enthusiasts rely on complicated tech and the general public can just use it as a tool and go on with their lives.

If you want to check out CloudReady (and thus, Chrome OS) yourself, you can download it for free on their website. It will help you create a bootable USB which makes it easy to test things out without installing it. If you find yourself enjoying the experience, the USB stick also is how you install CloudReady (by just clicking on install in the menu).


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