December 20, 2010, 10:27 AM — Like at least half the nerds in America, I applied to be part of Chrome OS beta testing program as soon as it was announced last week. On the surface, at least, I figured myself to be an ideal Chrome user—to a sometimes-scary extent, my life is already lived in Google's cloud. Even on a Mac I default to the Chrome browser, where I write in Google Docs, check my feeds in Google Reader, and even sync Google Calendar and Contacts to my iPhone and iPad instead of paying for MobileMe. The company's cloud-based operating system seemed the next logical step.
The CR-48—an unbranded laptop that Google is distributing free to all of its Chrome OS beta testers—arrived at my apartment on Wednesday. After two days of trying to use it as my primary computer, I've learned two things:
• It's true: Like a lot of people, I now spend the vast majority of my computing time online and in the cloud.
• But like a lot of people, I don't do all of my computing there. And the things I don't do within the cloud turn out to be critical to the way I live and work.
Here is an overview of the good, the bad and the merely perplexing of Chrome OS—with the caveat that the system is still very early in beta, and that any judgments rendered today might become moot two months, two weeks, or even two hours, from now.
(Image Caption: Chrome, sweet Chrome: As its name implies, Chrome OS is mostly focused around the Web browsing experience.)
The computer essentially uses the Chrome browser as its operating system—and because the browser is the only program in use, the computer boots very quickly, from power-off to ready-to-browse in just a few seconds. After years of waiting around interminably for operating systems to rouse themselves from slumber, this feature is a pleasant surprise. Another goody: the laptop comes with two years of free 3G service from Verizon Wireless (limited to 100MB per month), with download speeds that didn't seem to lag much behind my home's Wi-Fi. Also, THERE'S NO CAPS LOCK BUTTON, and that's OK.
If you're already a fan of the fast and intuitive Chrome browser, you'll enjoy surfing the Web on this computer. (Users can also sync their bookmarks from the computer to Chrome browsers they use on other machines, including Mac and Windows.) If you like to rotate browsers for different purposes—between Safari and Firefox, say—then you're out of luck.