The Internet has no boundaries. No limits. No edge. For all practical purposes, you will never reach the end of the Internet. Which is why it is so strange that working from Chrome OS, the portal to the Internet, induces flashbacks to older platforms that mess with the entire operating system.

To understand where I’m coming from, let’s rewind the tape four years to when I was an avid Windows user. I had my basic workflow down, I knew the applications that I liked, and I knew the tricks of the trade. Then I began to use OS X at school and began to really see the differences between the platforms, both good and bad.

Eventually, the time came that I had to purchase a laptop. The big question was: Mac or PC. So I ran a little test, where I counted the number of times I wanted to throw the computer against a wall in a single day for both the Mac at school and for the PC. The Mac won out (though with Lion, that might no longer be the case), so I switched to the Mac.

When I switched though, all of the workflows I had developed and all of the tricks that I had learned throughout my entire life were suddenly useless. It was great, because I didn’t have the need to edit the Registry. But at the same time, there were plenty of smaller things, like learning about the Activity Monitor instead of the Task Manager which turned into hurdles that needed to be overcome.

I had to find new applications to do basic tasks, and learn which sites featured good independent applications for the Mac. It was difficult, but after a while I got used to OS X, and the world moved on.

In the early moments of the switch, though, it was painful. I considered giving up on the platform switch and instead going back to Windows. This illustrated to me why the transition into a new operating system is so important for a company. If the learning curve is too steep, people will just return the computer within the allotted 14 days, and there’s no harm done. It’s hard enough to convince people to switch over, but harder still is not scaring them away once they have.

Back to Chrome OS, it’s the same thing. Up to this experiment, I had been running full speed ahead on OS X, iOS, and a little bit of Windows on the side, and now I’m having to relearn everything. Sure, I’ve used browsers every single day for nearly a decade and a half, but it’s somehow different this time.

When I switched to OS X, I knew that I basically had to search for downloadable applications and install them on the computer. Not too much of a shift, and everything followed the basic rules of the road that I’d been accustomed to. Applications, folders, icons, etc.

However, with the switch to Chrome, it is the same yet different. Which is confusing. That is to say, the browser is the same as it has always been. Type in a URL or search for a term in the Omnibar, and you get sent to the page or to the Google Search page. It’s normal. But then, your mind ends up getting tricked into thinking it is too familiar.

You’re using Chrome OS, and you’re browsing like you normally would, and then you think “I’ll just switch over to Twitter for Mac quickly,” but the three-fingered swipe that would bring you there on OS X doesn’t do anything. You try Alt+Tab, but that doesn’t bring anything up. Sure, Tweetdeck is running in a tab adjacent to the one you are working on, but in your mind you are treating like an old-school application. There are workarounds to this, of course, like putting a Web application into a different window, but that shouldn’t be necessary.

It’s a psychological problem, and it’s one that isn’t easy to solve. There are new things about Chrome OS, like only working via the Web, which are great. But then, you see a menu bar at the bottom of the screen, and it brings up all of the baggage you’ve accumulated for over a decade. It’s this clash of experiences that messes with the mind and reduces the overall experience of using Chrome.

There is no simple solution to this problem. There rarely are with psychological problems. After all, it’s not like writing more efficient code is going to overcome mental obstacles.

The closest thing to a solution that has come along recently was the introduction of iOS. When Apple debuted the product, it ran an altered version of Mac OS X and shared some of the same code. But Apple didn’t just shrink down Mac OS, it reinvented the entire computing experience. That let it throw out the rule book and introduce a new method of interaction. It was radically different, and it let Apple overcome the user’s psychological baggage.

Chrome OS will likely need to do something similar, if it is to be seen as an actual replacement for a computer. Running only Web apps is great, for security and data portability. It truly is fantastic to switch computers at ease without a second’s thought. The short boot up times are really nice. None of that should change.

What should change, though, is how it is presented. There are glimpses of how it should be, with the New Tab screen and with the Apps screen. It’s there, and it makes sense to be able to treat these like the standalone applications that they are. Instead, they’re crammed into a bar at the top of the screen, which wrecks the experience. This is the wrong strategy to be taking. Instead, the strategy should be a radical departure from the past.

To be clear, I understand that this is a computer that is technically speaking, simply Chrome as the operating system. I understand that, and that’s fine, if that’s as far as it ever gets. But it shouldn’t be the end of the road. Cloud computing as the de facto method of data storage and application installation is really amazing. There’s just baggage that needs to be thrown out before we get to the next step in the technical evolution of the operating system.

{Illustration by Hallie Bateman]