Résumé

My First Chrome 48

A cool-looking box arrived unannounced at my apartment two days ago. It was Google’s Cr-48 notebook for the Chrome OS Pilot Program. It was a pleasant surprise, and I’ve been happy trying to crash it for the last 48 hours. Here’s an analysis of this gift horse’s mouth:

Trackpad

A lot has been made of the Cr-48’s keyboard’s lack of a caps lock. To me, though, the trackpad is the interface device that has caused the most trouble so far.

On my [aluminum] MacBook, I’d configured the trackpad to right-click when the pad is clicked from the right region and left-click for the left region. This helps out in the OS quite a bit, but is most handy in the browser for “Open Link in new tab,” I use that context menu item in reddit, Google Reader, facebook, and for ‘shopping’ in incognito mode; in other words, for the sites I visit most on the web. I could connect a mouse and click the scrollwheel and get back a lot of lost link-opening productivity, but I want to note that it would be a departure from my previous expectation of laptop trackpads. The “two finger click” right-click gesture on the Cr-48 is terribly-inconsistent and annoyingly-different from previous experiences.

I’m also personally used to a three-finger swipe on the trackpad to go back and forward. Having to use function keys, shortcuts, or move the mouse pointer and click are all super slow in comparison. It won’t be fun to browse the web without these features.

Keyboard

I like the function keys a lot. They’re: back, forward, reload, full screen, toggle windows, brightness down, brightness up, mute, volume down, volume up.

The search key replacing the caps lock is novel. However, when I accidentally hit the caps lock on any other computer, what I type continues to print to screen, albeit in all caps. On Chrome OS, a new tab pops open and what I type shows up in the omnibox. It hasn’t happened yet, but I anticipate it’ll cause me some annoyance. Since I use ctrl+t constantly and consistently to open a new tab, I don’t really get a huge benefit from the replacement key.

The arrow keys are all scrunched. Meh.

What the keyboard needs desperately is a backlight. It’s an all-black machine with a lowercase keyboard (a nice UI touch in my book, since the default letters that appear when you press the keys are lowercase), so it’s hard to see what key you’re pressing. Perhaps this will be less of a concern when I get used to the slightly-different layout. Also, it’s testing hardware, so production mileage will vary. One thing that’s occurred to me is that a backlit keyboard might make some of the trackpad issues more bearable.

Performance

Startup is snappy. In fact, it was a breezy process to get the notebook on the internet after unboxing it.

I’ve found that there’s a slight delay in establishing connectivity after opening the lid, but it’s not bad at all.

The OS would feel snappier and be more usable if the new tab page loaded faster. For me, it’s a race between the URL coming up in the omnibox and the app link appearing on the new tab page. Since the tab page looks cool, I like when it wins the race sometimes.

The big performance problem is flash. I’m not sure if it’s the hardware or flash itself or the sandboxing model or some combination of all those things, but watching video on this thing is just the worst. Since I’m a hulu junkie, keeping to my promise to use this as my primary machine is going to suck unless flash performance improves significantly. To be honest, I’ve already sort of gotten used to watching hulu all jumpy-like in just the last two days. Work with what you’re given, I guess.

OS

It’s Chrome. I like Chrome.

I think there’s a legitimacy to the complaints that you can’t really produce content effectively without a robust filesystem and using only web apps. However, I see these as solvable problems that will only get better with time. For instance, I’m confident in my present ability to produce documents in Google Docs (as I have for 3 years now), edit photos and make vector graphics in Aviary, and do other limited media production using web apps.

In order to do this more effectively, though, access to files on peripheral devices has to be better-supported. I’ve found the core file system satisfactory so far, but can envision it would be better if the various prompts were more unified and the keyboard shortcuts more memorable. I think it’d be cool if downloads piggybacked to my Google Docs storage asynchronously. If local files appeared in a Google Docs List-like interface with the ability to quickly search those files, I think it would be a knock out of the park.

Fun Stuff

ctrl+alt+t brings up the Chrome Shell, or crosh for short. It has a very limited list of commands. I was able to use ssh, so that’s cool.

If you click “About Chrome OS” in the wrench menu and select “more info,” you can switch between the beta and dev channels.

This note isn’t just about Chrome OS, but about the web app store in general. Google specs a 128x128 icon for apps and extensions, but asks that they be 96 pixels square, centered, with padding. This makes the icon ecosystem inconsistent, since developers sometimes glaze over the part about the padding. For instance, Aviary’s icon is huge compared to the Google icons.

Conclusion

There are some things I don’t like that are probably easy fixes; or they won’t apply to consumer hardware. Once the OS gets those fixes or I get used to living without them, this will be a great machine for surfing the web and for occasionally producing stuff.

I’m optimistic that the web is moving forward, and that the few remaining things I rely upon desktop apps for will have viable cloud-based equivalents soon. I’m also confident that Chrome OS will have a novel, simple, usable solution for handling peripheral storage devices and for the necessary interaction with some sort of file system.

It’s been fun these past two days, and I look forward to testing this machine a lot more.