When it comes to operating systems, Google’s Chrome OS isn’t an existential threat to Microsoft’s Windows franchise or Apple’s Mac OS X. Nonetheless, Google remains determined to push its own version of an OS—one that relies heavily on cloud-based apps and always-on connectivity in order to function.
To that end, Google introduced some improvements to the Chrome OS line May 29. Samsung’s new Chromebook is supposedly three times as fast as the first-generation “Series 5” Chromebooks that the manufacturer rolled out last summer. Its Chromebox is meant for desktop use, complete with a Bluetooth connection for a wireless mouse and keyboard, and includes the same Intel Core processors as the new Chromebook.
But chances are pretty good that Chromebook and Chromebox hardware, while important, won’t prove the deciding factor in whether someone chooses to buy either machine—either as a second or third device. No, that responsibility lies firmly on Chrome OS itself, and whether it offers a convincing alternative to Windows and Mac OS X.
Google has focused on revamping Chrome OS into a more robust and feature-rich platform. The new Google Drive, integrated with File Manager, will reportedly support offline access—making Chromebook and Chromebox less dependent (at least in theory) on constant connectivity. The Chrome Web Store offers access to Kindle Cloud Reader, Netflix and other apps deemed essential by many users. And the Chrome Remote Desktop Data lets users connect to their PC or Mac.
Google’s big claim with Chrome OS is that a regular stream of auto-updates makes a Chromebook “always new.” While that’s not necessarily a differentiator from Windows or Mac OS X, both of which also update on a regular basis, Google’s emphasis on constant upgrades sends a signal that Chrome OS will not end up like some smartphones on the market—i.e., allowed to languish in perpetuity without an OS upgrade.
But Can It Compete?
Even with new hardware and a certain degree of offline functionality, can Chrome OS compete toe-to-toe against Windows and Mac OS X? Even as Google updates its operating system, its rivals are upgrading their respective platforms in ways that take fuller advantage of the cloud.
Both the latest versions of Mac OS X and the upcoming Windows 8 feature App Stores, which all but eliminate the need for boxed software. Both feature tight integration with cloud platforms: iCloud in Apple’s case, SkyDrive with Windows 8. On the hardware side of things, Apple has become obsessed with making its laptops sleeker and lighter, while Windows 8 will appear on tablets in addition to a variety of laptops—making both platforms just as portable as anything Google could create alongside its hardware partners.
In other words, Google seems determined to push Chrome OS forward. But it faces significant competition if it wants to make the same sort of dent in the traditional OS market as Google Android did in smartphones.