This is the last sentence that I’m going to type on my Chromebook. Going Google has been an emotional ride, with the most dominant emotion being sheer frustration. There were moments of unexpected pleasure at the discovery of new features, but the frustration wins out in my memory. The big question, though, is: should anyone else ever do this?
As a refresher, let me remind you all what I’ve been doing for the last two weeks. I decided to ditch my Macbook Air, iPhone, and iCloud in favor of the Google equivalents. So I picked up a Chromebook, Chromebox, Nexus S, and all of the Google apps. Switching out Pages for Google Docs, and Sparrow for Gmail. One platform for another. You get the idea.
There were highlights of the experience, like not having to worry about security – like, at all. Even OS X has had some run-ins with malware in the past year, but with Chrome OS it isn’t even on my mind. Then there’s the instant syncing, which is integrated almost by default in Web applications. There are probably 15 other minor features that really make the Android/Chrome OS/Google experience a joy to use.
Then there were the other kind of highlights, the ones that stuck out because they were painful. Like having to realize that features were missing because of patent lawsuits. Or when I realized that using OS X and Windows for well over a decade meant that I had been conditioned to use a browser in a certain way, which made using Chrome OS immensely frustrating at times. On top of those big complaints, there are the odds and ends, like the holes in Google’s ecosystem and the fact that it doesn’t seem like Chrome OS is a longterm viable product.
In the end, though, the only question that really matters is the one I’ve already asked: should anyone else do this, and go all Google, all the way? The answer is no. No one should go all Google. It’s frustrating, because the experience and the platform are unfinished, and the unfinished interior is immediately apparent to the user. Chrome OS has serious flaws, as does Android, but there are also redeeming features.
For example, the most redeeming part about the Google experience is that you largely don’t need to use Google-approved hardware. Now, not to slight Google-approved hardware, but there is a huge difference in build quality between the Chromebook and the Macbook Air (the price difference is also huge). The Chromebook may quickly boot up and may be light, quick and secure, but it’s no 10 out of 10.
The great thing is that users don’t need a Chromebook to take advantage of all of the great things about Chrome OS (minus the security part, as that’s only truly available on a Chromebook). Just download the Chrome browser. Like flipping a switch, you have all of the capabilities of Chrome OS, without all of the drawbacks and limitations. There is nothing that you can do on a Chromebook that you can’t do in the Chrome browser.
The fact that the two overlap completely is also the biggest reason why I wouldn’t recommend buying a Chrome OS device. Why spend a few Benjamins on a device that does one quarter of the operations that a normal computer does, when you can spend a few more for a computer that does everything? It’s probably the biggest flaw in the Chrome OS system, and although it can be remedied by letting go of the past (as I mentioned in this post) in the same way that iOS let go of OS X, there’s no evidence that such a change is even in the works.
For Android, it’s a different case entirely. The Android ecosystem is much fuller, and has much broader third-party support. It’s not perfect, but then again, neither is iOS. Android hardware might be hit-or-miss, but the platform itself is perfectly suited for almost any situation or use-case. For me, I can’t get by without Android or iOS at this point, because third-party apps are generally better for iOS, while it’s clear that Google apps are far better on Android. Since I need both to get my work done, I’m going to have to buy an Android phone and carry that in addition to my iPhone.
Going outside of the Android and Chrome OS, the real point that shines in the Google ecosystem is the trifecta of Gmail, Google Docs, and Calendar. I’m going to infuriate Apple fans, but I’ll say it anyway: Google puts Apple to shame with the quality of its core Web apps. Whether it’s just with better engineers or a better understanding of how people really interact with each other online, Google has done was Apple has failed at: creating Web-based, seamless-sync productivity applications.
The long-and-short of it is that you shouldn’t do what I’ve been doing — do as I say, not as I do. Don’t go Google, go semi-Google. Use Gmail, Google Docs and yes, even Google+, but don’t waste your money on Chrome OS when there’s a free alternative in the form of the Chrome browser. Cherry pick the ecosystem, because it’s the best and only way to go.
[The image is not a slight against Google+. I actually like Google+.]