Chrome OS: The Cloud-Only Problem is Coming Home to Roost

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 18, 2011

Now that Chromebooks--portable computers based on Google's Chrome OS--are out in the wild and hands-on reviews are appearing about them, it's easier to gauge the prospects for this new breed of operating system. As Jon Buys discussed here on OStatic, these portables are not without their strong points. However, there are criticisms appearing about the devices, and the criticisms echo ones that we made early on. In short, Chromebooks force a cloud-only compute model that leaves people used to working with local files and data in the cold.

In his OStatic post on Chromebooks, Jon Buys noted that the devices are "built to be the fastest way to get to the web." Indeed, Chromebooks boot in seconds--partly thanks to a Linux core--and deposit the user into an environment that looks and works like the Chrome browser.

However, Cade Metz, writing for The Register, notes this in a review of the Samsung Chromebook, which is available for under $500:

"Running Google's Chrome OS operating system, Chromebooks seek to move everything you do onto the interwebs. Chrome OS is essentially a modified Linux kernel that runs only one native application: Google's Chrome browser….This also means that most of your data sits on the web, inside services like Google Docs…The rub is that the world isn't quite ready for a machine that doesn't give you access to local files."

That's exactly what I felt woud be the shortcoming of devices based on Chrome OS, as seen in this post:

"With Chrome OS, Google is betting heavily on the idea that consumers and business users will have no problem storing data and using applications in the cloud, without working on the locally stored data/applications model that they're used to. Here at OStatic, we always questioned the aggressively cloud-centric stance that Chrome OS is designed to take. Don't users want local applications too? Why don't I just run Ubuntu and have my optimized mix of cloud and local apps? After all, the team at Canonical, which has a few years more experience than Google does in the operating system business, helped create Chrome OS. "

The interesting thing is, though, that Google may have an opportunity to easily address this perceived shortcoming. For example, Chrome OS now has a file manager, and it's not much of a leap to get from a file manager to a reasonable set of ways to store local data and manage it. Odds are that Google will change the way Chrome OS works going forward, making it less cloud-centric. That would seem to be a practical course of action.