Is using Chrome OS like going to prison?

Now that's a question I never expected to ask on Easter morning. But instead of waking up to egg hunts, I'm haunted by Brian Fagioli's Google+ Chromebook Community post overnight. He stirs up the hornets nest today.

"Using Chrome OS is a lot like prisoners in jail making alcohol in the toilet", he writes. "Even when you are limited, you will find a way. While it is fun to find a way to do things despite the limitations of Chrome OS, the question remains: why do we choose to put ourselves in jail?"

Fagioli isn't some troll tweaking Chromebook users. He purchased the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook -- that's the ARM-based model selling for $249 -- in January. This morning I asked if he is satisfied with the computer. "Yeah I love it", he answers. "I use it for personal use but the limitations caused me to install ubuntu in dual boot. Chrome OS won't let me access file sharing on my home network or even print to my home printer".

His satisfaction is important context for the rest of his questions: "Why did you choose to buy a Chromebook or Chromebox instead of a Windows or Mac or full blown Linux computer? Why did you choose to limit yourself? Was it just the low price?" The latter two are leading and likely will affect direction of the responses. Nevertheless, he genuinely asks.

"What limitations?" Frank Camuglia asks. "There's nothing I can't do on my Chromebook. I think what you don't understand is that what works for one, doesn't always work for everyone".

Fagioli answers:

I own a Samsung Chromebook and love it. However, I can't connect to a printer without buying a special printer or leaving a desktop running to connect to the printer. I can't do file sharing with my home network. For instance, if I have family photos on a desktop on my network, I cannot access them with my Chromebook. I can't connect to IRC without using a web service which, could be logging your conversations. The music player app is very basic. The Samsung Chromebook is $249. A new, better specced laptop can be had for $299 that can run full blown Linux or windows and chrome browser.

"Any OS is a jail", Falko Löffler asserts. "Ten years ago a Mac user was hearing the exact same thing: Why don't you use a Windows machine? There's much more software, it's much cheaper and there are no compatibility problems. Why bother trying to desperately find a workflow on something exotic like this -- OS X thing that no one will use in a few years from now."

I've been a tech journalist for nearly 20 years now, and can atest based on experience that Löffler absolutely is right. But I'll go further. The Google community of users -- that's more than just Chrome OS or Chromebook -- feels a lot like those rallying for Macs, 10 to 20 years ago. There's similar enthusiasm and sense of actually being a community. The character also reminds of Firefox users, but more before Chrome's recent rise in popularity.

Michael Romaniello: "Watching my kids use the mini Mac just to go online and watch YouTube and check Facebook, now i don't worry about a virus when there online. They also use them to watch Netflix. Can't beat the price. I brought one for myself after using theirs, easy to use and update".

That's no answer for Fagioli, who asks: "Are you doing your kids a disservice by dumbing down their computing? I understand it's easier for you to not worry about viruses but you are hindering their computer education". I'll answer that, following on Löffler. Not long ago, that was a common Windows PC rebuttal against Macs -- that using them didn't train kids for the future. I laugh because a Linux user asks this? Linux would prepare kids for what?

"They still use windows computers in school, and still use the mini mac at times when they need something the Chromebook doesn't do", Romaniello answers Fagioli. "The way kids today pick up on new technology i'm not worried at all".

Jerry Daniels, who uses Chromebook Pixel, is right: "I heard the same arguments about Macs crippling a kid's tech background and it's total bullshit. All people with a real tech background know this".

"In my school district they are going Apple in a big way. Students and some teachers are getting iPads", Gordon Sroufe writes, directed to Romaniello. "Cost, eventually, will be millions. Chromebooks would have been a better choice for students can reach educational software like Edmodo and faculty can get to power school for admin chores".

There are currently 4,573 members of the Google+ Chromebook Community. What surprises me in scanning the members: How many of them work for educational institutions -- one of Google's target markets for the computers and an Apple stronghold.

William Dove captures my sentiment:

It's not limiting yourself. It's simply preparing yourself for the future. I'm sure some of us still have Windows or OS X machine to tackle the things the Chrome OS can't but how often do you really need to use it? This is the future of computing, rather we like it or not. Google just happens to be way ahead of it's time. Ten maybe even 5 years from now, the use of hard drives will not be needed and only come for those that chose to have one to. That's why I'm choosing to get one.

Chrome OS and Chromebook are definitely controversial topics among BetaNews readers, and a Chromebook Community obviously is filled with enthusiasts. Then there is Fagioli's forceful and poignant metaphor. So I ask: Is using Chrome OS like going to prison? Comments await your answers.

Photo Credit: Liv friis-larsen/Shutterstock

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