When we reviewed the first Chromebook a year ago, we concluded that Chrome OS isn't for everybody. If you need certain desktops apps like Photoshop even when you're on the go, you're never going to appreciate what Google's trying to do here; there will always be some hole in your workflow that keeps you crawling back toward your PC. By design, Chrome OS is at its best when the user has always-on connectivity, which means for the foreseeable future, at least, it's destined to remain something of a niche concept.
The good news is that Google's taken a half-baked, experimental product and done an admirable job of fleshing it out. After spending a few days testing the software, we can confidently say that multitasking is a lot easier when you can view multiple windows onscreen at once, and when you have shortcuts pinned to the bottom of the screen, below the browser. It's also hugely helpful to be able to edit documents offline instead of just view them. Ditto for being able to read books offline, or use Hangouts for video chat instead of the calling feature built into GChat. And it could be even better: It would be nice to add shortcuts to docs, books and other things to the desktop, which currently amounts to a lot of blank, unusable space. More sophisticated photo-editing tools would be welcome, and we'd love to be able to share photos to sites other than Picasa.
Even without these things, version 19 marks a welcome update for existing Chrome OS users, and should suffice for the classrooms that are already issuing Chrome devices to students. Heck, it might even be time for curious early adopters to give Chrome OS a second look. But as Google starts selling more Chrome devices in retail, we have a harder time believing many consumers will be ready to put up with these limitations, especially as tablet apps grow more sophisticated, and as we start to see Transformer-like Win8 devices with touch-friendly apps and physical keyboards. Even Ultrabooks are starting to come down in price, and offer some of the features that have made Chrome OS devices appealing, such as fast resume times. Given how many affordable portable devices there are to choose from, Chrome OS might have the best shot at catching on if companies like Samsung would relax the price of their wares.
How It Stacks Up
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