I'm giving up Google Chromebook

My real journey with Chrome OS started with a family trip on July 31. But some journeys come to an end. As much as I like the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook, which I have used continuously since July 31, we must part ways. In a few days I will return to running Windows 7, which is another journey and story to go with it that will get brief explanation here. That is really topic for another post.

My two-month journey to the cloud can offer lessons to Google, which has much work to do yet before Chrome OS is really ready for the masses -- that is unless the problems I observed are specific to my Chromebook (which I highly doubt). The browser-based, Linux OS is still an early-adopter product -- the bleeding edge that cuts quick and sometimes deep. I'm not convinced even Chrome OS should have a future at all. But I can see where Google is going with this thing, particularly following last month's release of Chrome 14 with native code. I'd rather see one Google operating system -- Ice Cream Sandwich or successor running Chrome.

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Journey Begins

July 31, I posted to Google+:

While my daughter and friend have fun at Knotts Berry Farm, I'm hanging out here in Buena Park, Calif. For this trip, I brought the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook, which I will use full time during August (that's right, from tomorrow). It's part of my "Going Google" experiment...

I dragged my feet going Chromebook, waiting for Apple to release Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. I wanted to spend some quality time with the new operating system. There's nothing quality at all about my experience, which unexpectedly makes the switch easier. Two weeks after installing Lion, I still don't like it.

Lion reminds me too much of switching to Windows Vista from XP -- there are too many annoyances and compatibility problems. Some quirks: I get frequent permission errors accessing photos (seems like a problem when I exit, say, Preview without closing a photo first and reopen the app later); mail crashes every other day or so (compared to never before); WiFi range from the AirPort router to my apartment building's courtyard is one-third to one-half less compared to Snow Leopard or the Series 5 Chromebook; and many more gripes I'll save for later. Suffice to say, Lion roared, and I ran to the safety of the Google OS laptop.

As I will explain in a subsequent post, Lion is one of the major reasons why I'm going back to Windows 7. I've already sketched out the post in my mind and headline for it, and there will be the usual complaints from the Apple camp about linkbaiting. But the story will be sincere, whether or not they accept it. One other reason, and not the only one: Windows 8 is out in the wild as a developer preview. That's game I need to hunt more now than Lion.

Sky High

Living in the cloud isn't so bad. The air is a little muggy and there are stormy days, but I can't complain about the overall experience. Google has done an excellent job making the sky feel like earth. The surprisingly good integration with Google cloud apps and services is major reason. For example, if someone sends a .DOCX file, clicking the attachment opens Google Docs. I couldn't ask for much better using Outlook and Word -- well, I could. Gmail to Google Docs is faster.

So there is no misunderstanding: You can comfortably use Chromebook as an everyday business PC, as long as your stuff is accessible from the browser and supports Flash and adopted or open browser standards -- of course, you need persistent web connection for most things (but not always as there are offline apps). Most people using a traditional PC would need constant connection, too. Google's tight integration to its services and the surprisingly good choice of third-party web apps are major reasons why Chromebook can be good enough. Chrome OS satisfies all I need to do on a daily basis.

On August 11, I posted to Google+: "Have you got a Chromebook, too? I'm loving mine and would like to collect comments (for and against) for another story at Betanews". There were many good responses, and lots of Chromebook enthusaists, but Antonio Yon best captures the points I want to make in this post:

The best bits about my Samsung Chromebook:

  • 8+ hours battery life.
  • Instant-on from sleep.
  • Only notebook I don't pack the power cord when taking it out for day.
  • Amazing the quantity and quality of web apps from the Chrome store, from cloud9ide to rdio to sumo paint to box . All have become vital tools and replaced traditional desktop applications.
  • Totally portable form-factor

The not-so-nice bits:

  • Chrome OS still missing some key bits (.zip files were natively unusable until current channel release).
  • Memory leaks on certain sites. Google+ and FB seem to be the worse (300MB+).
  • Stuttering flash video at times.

The good news is that all of those things are addressable via driver/firmware/OS updates.

I agree. The three main benefits I see, and one may surprise people convinced that a cloud OS laptop is impractical: Instant-on, long battery life, and Internet connectivity. Switching to Windows 7 is going to be painful, because I will lose instant-on. Once you have the capability on a laptop, you can't easily go back (think candles versus electric light bulbs). I easily get more than eight hours battery life from the Series 5 Chromebook. But the Net connectivity is amazing -- like Google worked to overcompensate for possibly losing it.

This machine easily and quickly finds WiFi networks. When none is available, there is backup -- Verizon 3G radio with 100MB free bandwidth per month. What a lifesaver that was for me during Microsoft's BUILD conference. Many journalists couldn't get a stable WiFi connection during the keynotes. On Day 1, I sat next to a European journalist using an ASUS Transformer -- right the Android "Honeycomb" tablet -- with keyboard. It was a slick setup, but he, like many others, couldn't get WiFi. I turned on 3G and liveblogged the event.

Days later, that 3G radio allowed me to work from the vet's office after my daughter's cat got run down by a car (the big fur ball survived and is recovering remarkably well). Instant-on allowed me to flip the lid and write, close it to answer the vet's questions and resume work quickly.

But there are fundamental performance problems that make Chrome OS feel like beta software. Google Talk crashes several times a day, as do some third-party plugins. Flash is a killer (crashes helluva lot), and I'm convinced it's a major source of browser tab crashes, sometimes maddeningly slow performance and complete browser UI crashes. This kind of behavior is simply unacceptable in a shipping, commercial operating system and creates a bad user experience. Instant-on is great, persistent-on is better.

I haven't tooled up and tested for memory leaks, but I can feel something dragging performance -- noticeable at first by slow load times in browser tabs -- that inevitably ends with Flash, tab(s) or the whole UI crashing. Fortunately Chrome OS restores all work -- I've never lost anything -- but there should only be occasional need for the capability. I see daily problems.

Returning to Earth

September 2, I posted about my first month using Chromebook. I fully expected to continue using the laptop for many more months. Right now I've got a loaner from Google and Samsung that is due back October 7. I had planned to buy my own Chromebook to replace the loaner. But in the month since that post, I've grown increasingly frustrated by the aforementioned beta-like, performance problems -- then there is the growing sense of urgency to get back on Windows in preparation for version 8's beta and release cycle. Mainly, for these reasons, I will not buy my own Chromebook as planned.

Something else: I'm convinced that Google shouldn't continue with a two-operating system strategy. The search-and-information giant already is working to combine Android 2.x for smartphones and Honeycomb for tablets into Ice Cream Sandwich for both. Chrome OS should be next. The advantages are stupendous. Chrome as Android's browser, say, would make web and local apps available. It's the right thing to do.

Then there is the copycat problem. Apple and Microsoft can offer fast, instant-on versions of their operating systems with the browser as front end (the capability exists in Lion today). So Chrome OS could face stiff competition from incumbents.

Then there is look and feel. I actually enjoy using my malfunctioning Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (it can't accept firmware updates) more than Chromebook. Big benefits, like long battery life and instant-on, are there already. Meanwhile, the user interface is fresher and more modern. The browser is a tired motif -- something Microsoft understands and corrects in its delightful IE10 presentation in Windows 8 Developer Preview build. But Android doesn't have Chrome, as good as is its browser.

In a fitting transition then, I'll pack up the Chromebook for return later today and use Tab 10.1 for a few days as my primary PC, while waiting to replace it with a Windows 7 system.

I really will miss Chromebook. I've grown quite attached over the past two months. Font rendering is superb, and like Windows 7, outclasses Mac OS X. The browser motif works, although I will admit to a good week's adjustment -- as new muscle memory patterns set in for different habits. The going Google experiment continues in other areas (although I really don't like Gmail), and it's long past due time to write about it -- but the experiment goes on without Chromebook (sigh). Perhaps if I was just working for myself and not writing about tech (where there is need of platforms to test stuff on), I would keep using Chromebook. Or if I couldn't recreate the basic experience using Chrome browser on Windows 7.

It's a bittersweet goodbye, but some journeys end so others can begin.

Photo Credit: Joe Wilcox

52 Responses to I'm giving up Google Chromebook

  1. GARY LEVIN says:

    Do you want to sell it to me?

  2. Andrea Rossi says:

    "Chrome as Android's browser, say, would make web and local apps available. It's the right thing to do." They're doing it! Rumors say it'll be released soon!

  3. VeryVito says:

    Not trying to start a "Stick with OS X" battle, but as someone who shares your experience with Lion, I figure I should let you know:  I also feared that Lion would push me over the edge, and I looked around for other solutions, too. After sticking it out for two months, it didn't get better -- until I did a clean reinstall, that is. Today, I'm loving Lion (just like everyone said I would), but the upgrade path Apple made for this OS was a huge mistake -- without a clean install, Lion is a huge pile of disappointment. With a clean install, however, it's everything I'd like it to be. Forget installing it from the App store -- use a disk, format and start again (you HAVE backed up your data, I assume?)

  4. y eye says:

    I am sure we will all be much much better~off because of your new found enlightenment.

    and, I will be much better-off when you send it to me for examination. 
    I promise to return it to you hacked to the best of my ability and it will be powered by ARM~WOS... :)y

    WOS  defined  by me as Web OS.

    ARM~WOS 

  5. psycros says:

    Most people using a traditional PC would need constant connection, too.

    For what?  Emulating a Chromebook by using the same Google apps?  Or just in general?  If its the latter then I'd have to disagree.  I certainly don't need constant connectivity for any work-related app including email.  I suppose if you simply must have Facepage or whatever going 24/7 then you'd need it, but otherwise...?

    The browser is a tired motif -- something Microsoft understands and
    corrects in its delightful IE10 presentation in Windows 8 Developer
    Preview build.

    The Bill Gates worshipper within simply cannot be stifled it would seem.  I'll give you that the browser is certainly a "tired motif" when it comes to applications, which have no business running on inefficient and laggy web code.  Until we all have either fiber to our homes or wireless internet becomes affordable and ubiquitous, this is how it will be.  No amount of wishing otherwise will change things.

    • woe says:

      99% of the time a "web version" of an application lacks in some way, featrues, speed etc.  If Java is used it is 100% of the time.

  6. "On Day 1, I sat next to a European journalist using an ASUS Transformer -- right the Android "Honeycomb" tablet -- with keyboard. It was a slick setup, but he, like many others, couldn't get WiFi."

    My Android phone has "Share 3G as Wifi" which does rather get around this problem with my TF101...

    • Level380 says:

      He couldn't get wifi cause of so many people using the wifi and all the "share 3G as WiFi" devices you are talking about. Wifi is shared bandwidth, too many devices will kill wifi fullstop. You won't even see your own 3G hotspot. Read the article again

  7. "On Day 1, I sat next to a European journalist using an ASUS Transformer -- right the Android "Honeycomb" tablet -- with keyboard. It was a slick setup, but he, like many others, couldn't get WiFi."

    My Android phone has "Share 3G as Wifi" which does rather get around this problem with my TF101...

  8. Fayez Noor says:

    great article, will love to see a follow up from your end after a month or so 

  9. tiburoncito_2000 says:

    so are you giving this as a prize to a "lucky" reader?

  10. woe says:

    Your poor mother.

    None of this is a suprise.  Pure cloud computing is a total hype to stire up new revenue streams for companies like Googe and Microsoft.  Andriod anything is only good on phones and tablets like the Kindle Fire that are not a total UI mess.  Google Docs.....is a joke.  Not bad for free but if you want free just use MS Office Web apps which are better.  The cloud has its place but local data will remain strong for many years to come.

    Google + while slightly better in its area, will fail as well.  Increasingly Google is becoming known for search and all those other beta things they tried to get working.  More and more they are getting in trouble because of privacy issues and anyone that would trust them with their email is CRAZY.

    I have seen other bloggers do this same thing, "I am going Mac and nothing else" or "I am switching to Windows 7 full time for the next x amount of days".  It is nothing new and is designed purely to get hits.

    • Bob Bigellow says:

      The iPhone (or "smart phone") was total hype. The personal computer was total hype. Inkjet printers were total hype.

      All new technologies are "total hype"... that is, until they become ubiquitous.

      The same is happening with web technologies. Years ago, there were hundreds of new installed applications being hyped and pushed on businesses and consumers. These days, anything new is web related. Even Microsoft is doing more for the cloud than for anything disconnected from the cloud.

      • woe says:

        "The Cloud" is NOT new at all.  I had a yahoo mail account....a LONG time ago.  10 years ago a company I worked for out sourced their benifits to the "cloud".

        The term "cloud" is just a new name for hosted solutions.  It is a massive move by Google, Microsoft and others to create new revenue streams, because the traditional ones have peaked or slowed.

        The "cloud" has its place but it is not new or is it the thing everything will go to.

    • Anonymous says:

      How is Office Online better for you? Personally, it doesn't have the features I need; features that Google Docs does have.

    • Anonymous says:

      This commenting system won't allow me to reply to your previous comment ,so I'll add my response here:

      Headers, pagination, Gmail integration, adding custom words to the Dictionary, downloads in other formats, and a real Fullscreen interface.

  11. Mathieu says:

    My Chromebook had never crashed on me, but, granted, I don't use it a lot.

    ChromeOS is all about web app (vs. Android is all about Android apps) so I think Google think as Android as a "temporary" OS while the web is getting ready and connectivity gets better.

    I don't think Google will ever kill ChromeOS.

    Even on my "real" PC, I spend most of my time in the browser (90% Chrome 9% Firefox 1% IE).

    For instance, I'd rather looks at my holidays photos on Facebook or Picasa rather than looking at the original photos stored on my hard drive.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I have Chrome machine that Google sent me. I dont like the hardware and with 100MB plan, it is almost useless. I keep it in my car for occasional use. Wireless connection takes too long and is not ready when browser comes up most of the time.

    I use Mac pro Lion at home, however the only software I use on it pretty much, Google Chrome browser! But I love Mac Lion's instant on feature (wireless ready in 1 second) and exceptional quality hardware. Trackpad is so smooth and it always captures my actions. Lighted keyboard etc are really awesome.

    At work, I am forced to use Windows 7. I dislike the useless HP hardware. Trackpad is almost useless. Windows 7 user interface us worse than Windows XP - look at file awful file search.

    I think Google will eventually create a full desktop out of Chrome OS in direct competition with Mac and Windows. I do not think Google can be successful on the consumer market without cheap unlimited wireless broadband plans. Everything in cloud strategy will not work for consumers for the foreseeable future in United States. But Google may sell it to businesses needing excellent control of end user device.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I mostly enjoyed my Chromebook experience and actually wrote about it here: http://www.rajansingh.com/blog/?p=230

    What I missed the most was not being able to "geek" w/ the OS. Not being able to move icons around, edit folders, view properties etc made me feel like I was being unproductive (since I was always in the browser)

  14. Yogi says:

    I don't understand why people are always complaining about boot times on Windows. Why are you people shutting down your computer? Bringing my quite old Dell M1210 laptop out of sleep takes about 2 seconds.

  15. nascent says:

    Damn, hate to hear it's so unstable.  Really hope they stabilise it before retail release.

  16. DonGato says:

    If you buy a decent Ultra Portable, that will lead you to almost instant-on behavior and long lasting battery, not to say speed and portability. With Windows 7 on it is a nice deal.

  17. Droymac says:

    Nice article, and perfect timing. I was thinking about this a few nights before and was actually starting to feel guilty for the thought of abandoning my Chromebook. I've had a lot of fun with it, and have discovered some pretty amazing web apps that I'll definitely be using with Chrome on my next machine (probably a MacBook Pro). I see a lot of potential for future generation Chromebooks...but for now, Chrome OS and current hardware limitations just aren't cutting it for me.

  18. Brian G. Fay says:

    I don't think that anything has to be either/or and I'm glad that one of the reasons you're going Windows 7 is because you need to get set for Windows 8 (as a technology writer). That makes sense. My experience on the Chromebook (I have the CR48 prototype) has been largely similar but I have found that it still does most everything I want. It is better for me than a tablet since I spend most of my time writing. It is better than a Windows 7 machine because of battery, weight, etc. (That said, we have two Win7 machines in the house, one for my wife, one for my daughters.) And it is better than a MacBook for many reasons all of which are either personal (I found that I didn't work well with a Mac) or economic (the two Win7 machines together cost 2/3 what my MacBook cost and it only worked for a year and a half). 

    I love Gdocs and have been using it forever. There are things it doesn't do. Yep. There sure are. But locally stored files are just too much of a pain to me. Like others here, I also work almost entirely in a browser, so the CR48 works for me. 

    Yours is a thoughtful article. Thanks for sharing it with us. 

  19. aegrotatio says:

    I would have owned a Chromebook if I did not already find a much more powerful, smaller, lighter, and very reliable, AMD dual-core Windows 7 netbook from Acer for $150 less at my local Target store.  Adobe flash is perfect and it even runs real games.

    Chromebooks are horribly overpriced.  Nobody wants or needs them.  At best, I thought they were great only for web bloggers, and from this article, they aren't even good enough for them.

  20. Anonymous says:

    The problem is the Chromebook is born to be made for cheap hardware.  It's not meant to be a 500 dollar device.  It will never succeed unless they can get the price down to 150.

    • Level380 says:

      $300 is a nice pricepoint, I doubt any time soon you will see it for $150

      • Steve Ashby says:

        Intel has a $199 reference design for a non-windows netbook...

      • Level380 says:

        Nice.... but $199 is still $50 more than the guy wanted, then by the time you add the google costs and the hardware makers profit, your looking at figure more like $299?

      • Level380 says:

        Nice.... but $199 is still $50 more than the guy wanted, then by the time you add the google costs and the hardware makers profit, your looking at figure more like $299?

  21. Eric Ward says:

    Very good post. I have had my Samsung Chromebook since late June and I have had a very similar experience to yours including the level of frustration dealing with crashing tabs. I complained previously that Google didn't include enough memory included in the Chromebook to make it a computer workhorse. After a week of using it, I considered returning my unit to Amazon.

    Yet, the Chromebook has become my go-to computer also for the reasons you state. Yes, the instant-on is something I got used to right away. The frequent OS updates have since corrected many of the initial problems that came with my device (with the current exception of making Flash work right). And, I do nearly all of my data storage at different places in the "cloud". I have done a lot of work on it - spreadsheets, documents, etc. since I have owned it.

    One of the most important benefits of using the Chromebook, which I am surprised you didn't cover in this post, are the security features and the lack of needing to constantly updated my security software or wait for updates to stop so my computer doesn't lag (as I experience on my Windows laptop). I also do not miss waiting for Windows to restart after yet another security update.

  22. Eric Ward says:

    Very good post. I have had my Samsung Chromebook since late June and I have had a very similar experience to yours including the level of frustration dealing with crashing tabs. I complained previously that Google didn't include enough memory included in the Chromebook to make it a computer workhorse. After a week of using it, I considered returning my unit to Amazon.

    Yet, the Chromebook has become my go-to computer also for the reasons you state. Yes, the instant-on is something I got used to right away. The frequent OS updates have since corrected many of the initial problems that came with my device (with the current exception of making Flash work right). And, I do nearly all of my data storage at different places in the "cloud". I have done a lot of work on it - spreadsheets, documents, etc. since I have owned it.

    One of the most important benefits of using the Chromebook, which I am surprised you didn't cover in this post, are the security features and the lack of needing to constantly updated my security software or wait for updates to stop so my computer doesn't lag (as I experience on my Windows laptop). I also do not miss waiting for Windows to restart after yet another security update.

  23. Johnny D says:

    I have a CR-48 and I love it.

    • Anonymous says:

      I'm also a Cr48 tester, and for some things it can't be beat for convenience, compared to my 8+ lb Linux Mint laptop.  But, I agree that ChromeOS isn't quite ready for primetime just yet.  I'm glad...I actually got to review mine *and* keep it too!  ;)

      • Peter Bancroft says:

        I think I agree to be honest. I love my Chromebook, and my wife uses it more than our PC as well, but I think its about five years ahead of its time. We don't have ubiquitous wireless Internet yet, so the device has limited usage just there. Then the other limitations in that, as much as Google suggests otherwise, there just aren't that many productive webapps yet. 

      • Peter Bancroft says:

        I think I agree to be honest. I love my Chromebook, and my wife uses it more than our PC as well, but I think its about five years ahead of its time. We don't have ubiquitous wireless Internet yet, so the device has limited usage just there. Then the other limitations in that, as much as Google suggests otherwise, there just aren't that many productive webapps yet. 

  24. iain moore says:

    That is too bad about your Lion issues as I've been using it without issue. I was hopeful I would be able to recommend Google Chrome to people who ask for an inexpensive alternative to an Apple product. However after reading this article and many others I don't think I will.

    Giving up Lion for Windows 7 is more like giving up Windows XP SP3 for Windows ME

  25. The Leader says:

    I love OSX Lion , i did a clean install on  my 24 inch iMac and it runs beautiful. :)

  26. Adam says:

    Chromebooks are targeted to specific types of users that want an easy, portable Internet browsing device.  They are not meant to replace the traditional PC or laptop.

    In addition, there are third party apps out there that can bridge the gap for Chromebook users that require occasional access to those tools found only in a Windows environment.  For example, if a Chromebook user needs quick, easy, temporary access to a Windows desktop or Windows app, they can use Ericom AccessNow, a pure HTML5 RDP client that enables Chromebook users to connect to any RDP host, including Terminal Server (RDS Session Host), physical desktops or VDI virtual desktops – and run their applications and desktops in a browser.

    Ericom‘s AccessNow does not require Java, Flash, Silverlight, ActiveX, or any other underlying technology to be installed on end-user devices – an HTML5 browser is all that is required.

    For more info, and to download a demo, visit:
    http://www.ericom.com/html5_rdp_client.asp?URL_ID=708

  27. Great. More techno-crap that will be useful for 2 years and then tossed in the trash to poison our environment and waterways. At this rate we will have no choice but to live in the clouds because the ground will be too polluted.

  28. SirPoonga says:

    Interesting article.  I've been thinking about getting a Chromebook.  It's priced about the same as other net books with similar hardware.  Here's my question though, if I didn't like it could Windows be installed on it?

  29. everlast95 says:

    i wish you had made your "dont like gmail" comment at the begining of the article so Id know not to take ypu seriously!  you barely touch on price point issues... whos going to pay $600?! this machine should cost $200 regardless of mfg. costs and be subsidized by googles ad revwnue empire. any other price point is unsellable. i also cant tell if you realize that chrome/android/ios et al is the future: windows and osX will be over in this decade.

  30. Anonymous says:

    I'm wondering why I would want something like this.  It takes my laptop (mac) a total of 30 seconds to boot from power on and less than 5 to wake from sleep.   Its battery doesn't last as long as a chromebook, but it allows me to edit documents and use programs like photoshop.  Doing everything "in the cloud" isn't necessarily efficient or secure or even desirable.

  31. Chris Jones says:

    Of course chrome os takes 8 second boot and one second wake from sleep and does not drain any battery life during sleep. Chrome os is a browser, the computer has an easy and simple os to handle. But this also makes it that you cannot do much on chrome os. I think google should make chrome os more like android.

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