Google is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Chromebooks and for the occasion has announced developments in design, features and new functions for the operating system in charge of governing them: Chrome OS.
How time flies… It seems like yesterday when the first Chromebooks were presented at the Google I / O conference in May 2011 by Acer and Samsung. From there, the climb of the platform has been unstoppable and today they are a real alternative to Windows PCs and Apple Macs in almost all fields of use.
In fact, Chromebooks have been able to outperform Windows in some segments of the computing desktop such as the education sector and in 2020 they were the PCs that grew the most when confinements due to the COVID pandemic forced the acquisition of teleworking infrastructure -line and leisure at home.
Complicated startups for Chromebooks
Google announced the Chrome OS operating system in 2009. An operating system that replicated the Android model, but on personal computers. A commercial derivative of the open source Chromium OS project, it was based on the Linux kernel, the Chrome web browser, and the addition of key software such as the media player, file manager, and native Google Apps.
The initial conception as an operating system fully focused on the cloud it complicated its use for most users. The system depended almost entirely on servers and the Internet to run web applications on the Chrome browser, its main work tool. It soon became clear that this was a highly limiting factor and that offline support needed to be improved.
In addition, the same execution of web applications from Chrome and a graphical interface consisting of browser windows based on WIMP distanced it from more traditional desktops such as Windows or macOS and the truth was that in its beginnings it was simple and unattractive. Nor did it offer support for other applications such as Android or important third parties that came later.
As for the hardware, the first Chromebooks bet exclusively on the entry range, including models under ARM architecture that did not reach the performance of the Intel / AMD x86. Google also tried to enter other market segments such as mini-PCs, Chromebox, or compact AIO Chromebase, without much success.
Therefore, the initial reception of the platform was quite lukewarm, although from the beginning its advantages were recognized in simplicity, security, ease of use, management and administration of Chrome OS, in addition to the low cost of the equipment, accessible for any budget.
Huge platform upgrades and takeoff
Google was clear that it had to improve several sections of its platform for PCs and a few months after the initial launch it implemented a new graphical environment hardware accelerated name “Aura”. On that basis the improvements have been happening in this decade and today it offers components that we use in Windows or macOS such as multiple desktops, taskbar, animated transitions, status bar for each of the open applications, wallpapers, windows superimposed with the possibility of maximization or variation of size, etc.
The Applications it has also been another important point of improvement. Leaving aside the concept that “the web was the platform,” great third-party applications soon arrived, including the Creative Cloud graphics suite (Project Photoshop Streaming) or the Office suite after a high-profile agreement with Microsoft, as well as a collaboration with VMWare that was used in the promotion for companies and administrations of the Chromebook Enterprise versions.
It was incomprehensible that Google did not take advantage of the thousands of apps Android on Chrome OS and after partial support, the Runtime for Chrome App was released and Play Store support arrived on Chromebooks. Today, potentially, any Android app can run on Chrome OS.
Also Linux. Although Crouton could be used to run GNU / Linux distributions alongside Chrome OS, the first big news for the free system came from Ubuntu on Chromebooks with official Canonical tutorial. It was necessary and finally the announcement of official Google support for Linux applications on Chromebooks came. Thus, at Google I / O 2019 the company announced that Chromebooks “would be Linux laptops.”
Sections like that of games where the presence of Windows on PCs is overwhelming is also in the process of improvement. Chrome OS runs all games compatible with web browsers, those available in the Chrome Web Store and also those for Android, but Google intends to bring Steam to Chrome OS will be a great advance and will open the doors to a good number of titles. It also has Stadia. If we think that running in the cloud is the future of video games and with it client machines (or consoles) will be much less important, Chrome OS is perfectly placed to be a relevant platform.
In terms of hardware, Chromebooks are no longer the “poor brother” of PCs. The increase in supply, both in number, level of hardware, formats and target market, has been remarkable in recent years. With support for both x86 and ARM processors, today they are widely supported by all major manufacturers (HP, Lenovo, Toshiba, Acer, Samsung, Dell, ASUS or LG) and the offering has expanded towards attractive convertibles and 2-in-1s. .
New Chrome OS: New Chromebooks
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the platform’s launch, Google has announced a series of new features to improve the design and capabilities of Chrome OS. We summarize them:
Phone Hub. It is surely the most prominent and is focused on improving the operation of Android smartphones in Chrome OS. It offers functions similar to those we recently saw in Windows “Your phone”, view and reply to text messages from Chromebooks, the battery life of the terminal, the signal status of the cellular network or the open browser tabs .
Wi-Fi sync. Chromebooks can now automatically connect to trusted Wi-Fi networks that the user has used on Android phones or other devices.
Quick setup. New features in the Settings panel include an option to capture a screenshot, make a recording, or access the media playback controls.
Clipboard. The last five items copied to a Chromebook can be pasted using the dedicated button without having to move from one window to another.
Quickly answers. Right-click on a word or passage to start a search without opening a separate search tab.
Desks. The virtual desktop feature will now automatically restore previously opened desktops when you restart a Chromebook. You can also send a window to one or all desktops by right-clicking at the top of the window.
Parental control. During setup, parents / guardians can quickly add a school account to a Chromebook, allowing them to use Family Link to monitor children’s tasks with the machine or help them set a PIN during setup.
Google says it has also improved some other functions Chrome OS updates with updates that make it easy to quickly share an app or website, adjust the playback speed when using the Select to Talk feature. It has also updated the icons for the built-in applications that come preloaded and prepares other functions such as compatibility with Near Share for Chrome OS in the coming months without the need to exchange contact details. Soon you will be able to use it to transfer files between Android and Chrome OS devices or from Chromebook to Chromebook.
Concluding. While Chromebooks still have some limitations for certain types of computing use, today they are a compelling alternative to Windows and macOS for the improvements mentioned in software and hardware and advantages to convince a good number of users in consumption, education and companies who are looking for what Chrome OS has always offered (simplicity, ease of use, administration or security), interface improvements that They have brought a modern desktop closer to, greater support for applications and offline use, and greater support from OEM manufacturers who have produced Windows-level computers.
In this regard, we highlight as a curiosity Intel’s celebration of the 10th anniversary of Chromebooks. Chip Giant Names 11th Gen Intel Core Optimized For Them; Thunderbolt coming to Chrome OS for the first time this year; the new Celeron and Pentium Silver processors well suited for education; or the Modern Computing Alliance, co-founded by Intel, which brings together hardware and software leaders to deliver industry-level innovations to Google’s Chrome business ecosystem.
How can history change in such a short time. Intel and Microsoft have dominated global computing with an iron fist for two decades through ‘Wintel’ and now the former touts a rival platform like Chromebooks. And Microsoft goes the other way with the Windows platform on ARM …