Google’s desktop operating was originally dismissed by many as merely a browser. Betting on the future of the interwebs and eyeing the shift towards web apps, Chrome OS did seem like another one of the company’s ambitious project. But it worked. People quickly realized how significantly their lives depend on online services and a browser is all they need for the majority of their job.
However, the Chrome OS we know today is vastly different than what Google introduced six years ago. Sure, it still largely revolves around that tiny yellow icon we know as Chrome. Most of the Chromebooks out there are still relatively affordable than other computers. But Google has brought in a slew of updates in the last few years which might give a sense of the company pivoting away from its original promise with Chrome OS.
Okay, so, if you’re new to this, you are probably lost here. Let me walk you through it.
There are a bunch of fundamental reasons why Chrome OS grew especially with sectors such as education. Google itself clearly highlights all of those in one of the first Chrome OS advertisements. Since Chrome OS is essentially an internet browser, it is always up-to-date because websites are always up-to-date, it is always safe as you don’t have to deal any software outside of Chrome, and there are no applications which constantly require updates. Emphasis is, of course, on the word “always” here. Here’s a video by Google for you to watch it in action.
How does the 2018 Chrome OS contradicts these statements? Well, for starters, Chrome OS now ships with the Play Store and is, therefore, compatible with Android applications as well as games. This, in fact, violates all of those aforementioned advantages. Android apps demand updates, they’re not always secure, and hence, your computer isn’t always up-to-date because of the first point. And unlike what you’d expect, Chrome OS comes with the full-fledged Play Store experience, not a restricted environment.
In addition to that, due to the fact that Android apps support is still in its early stages, you do have to deal with a lot of software updates as well which do require restarts. Another key differentiating feature of Chrome OS that Google used to advertise was that its operating system didn’t need restarts whenever a new update arrives. That was primarily because the company was technically only pushing changes to a browser app.
Lastly, Google, a few weeks ago, also announced that it’s bringing Linux desktop applications to Chrome OS too. That, if you can’t tell, further contributes to the rising heap of Chrome OS’ identity crisis. So the question is whether Google has indeed deviated from the path it initially set on with Chrome OS?
According to me, the answer is multifold. While with Android and Linux support, it does conspicuously seem like Google is disputing its own goals with these advancements as I outlined earlier, there are a handful of crucial reasons behind them.
One is Google’s shriveling position in the tablet industry and the rising shift towards more versatile computers like convertibles, iPads, and more. Google seems to be struggling to convince enough customers to invest in a Chromebook which only runs the browser. Features like games, creative tools are essential if you’re in the market for a new tablet and with just web apps, a Chrome OS without Android misses out on a lot of them. By simply allowing millions of mobile applications on its desktop operating system, Google managed to yield a platform which, if you ask me, is the best of both worlds. Sure, it hasn’t been a straight line for Google with this project but they’ve mended most of the critical issues users were facing.
Second is apparently, Google’s inability to break outside the education industry. Mainstream buyers, while have begun considering Chromebooks as their primary computers, fear of not having that one Mac or Windows feature in the time of need generally mars their decision. And it’s completely understandable.
Roughly speaking, even with all the advancements to cloud tech, a browser can fulfill maybe 90% of your work but for that last 10%, you need a more advanced desktop operating system. Everyone’s 10% is different. It can be Photoshop for an artist or a video-editing software for a Vlogger. Though Android apps help to an extent, they’re still not as proficient as full-fledged desktop apps. To fill that void, Google is adding Linux support and allowing users to install desktop applications on compatible Chromebooks.
These changes can be a double-edged sword, though. Two of the Chromebooks’ cornerstones are security and price. Android and Linux apps are a threat to both of those upper-hands Chrome OS exercises in an argument against Mac or Windows. Without any restrictions on Android applications, Chrome OS can soon suffer from the same perils Android itself does which is a vulnerable ecosystem.
Furthermore, since advanced applications like games and creative tools from Linux demand more processing power, manufacturers will be left with nothing but adding higher-end chips as we’ve seen with new Chromebooks from companies like HP. That consequently shoots up the price to at least competent Windows computers territory. The problem with Chromebooks competing against decent Windows PCs in a level playing field is that the buyer will, in most cases, will take into account the number of features it’s getting and most probably, decide to go with Windows. Enabling Android applications can even ruin the experience of customers on cheaper Chromebooks.
Google has, though, kept all of these optional for now so that it won’t come in the way of users who want to continue using their Chromebooks as before. One other thing worth mentioning is that by offering support for native apps, Google might also be throwing a wrench in the growth of the web app community since it’s one of the early adopters. But that’s probably least of their worries.
Google has shaken quite a lot in its quest for building an operating system as capable as its competitors. However, in the process, it might also be spoiling the features because of which Chrome OS originally rose to fame like security, long-term performance, ease of use, and more. Android and Linux apps certainly have a shedload of clear benefits and will allow Chromebooks to reach a wider audience. We’ll just have to wait and see whether it plays out in Google’s favor or not.