Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

Summary: Google Chrome OS has been greatly improved, but for most users it's still not good enough. Here's what's new and improved and where it still falls short.

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I quite like Google's Chrome operating system (OS)--a Linux variant that use the Chrome Web browser as its interface--but as it's being shipping today, Chrome OS has problems. Fortunately, in the latest Chrome OS stable channel release, Google is finally addressing some of these rough spots.

To put it to the test, I installed the new Chrome OS, Chrome version 13.0.782.108, to my Samsung Chromebook. It took a while to install-not the installation itself, that took about a minute-but to get it going. I had to click the update button several times to get things going. I'm not the only one who found that to be the case.

Once installed, everything ran smoothly. While I was making sure nothing had been broken in the update, it occurred to me that one neat thing about Chromebooks is that, more so than with conventional PCs, you don't need to update your hardware to get major new functionality. With Chrome OS, or any cloud-based operating system, the goodness is baked into the operating system and the Web. Ah, if only that promise had been better kept in this release of Chrome OS.

That said, what's really new and improved in this Chrome OS update? The first thing I noticed is that it's now easy to use Chrome OS on a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Before this update, you had to turn on the VPN functionality-as an "experimental" feature. This was annoying.

Now, you can use a Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol/Internet Protocol Security (L2TP/IPSec) private network with a pre-shared key by just clicking on the network icon and selecting "private network." In my trials, using Windows Server 2008 R2 as my VPN server on both my home network and over the Internet, I had no trouble setting up VPNs and using them for work.

That's the good news. The bad news is L2TP/IPSec is still the only VPN protocol Chrome OS supports easily. So, if like me, you prefer to use OpenVPN for your VPN, you're out of luck. Chrome OS needs broader VPN protocol support.

On the plus side for private networking, Chrome OS no longer "forgets" VPN settings. In its last iteration, it would do that sometimes and I had to try very hard not to throw my Chromebook across the room.

Chrome OS also now supports auto-connecting with 3G. If you're frequently stuck miles away from the closest Wi-Fi hot spot this can be very handy.

The operating system also now supports 802.1x. This, in turn, means your Wi-Fi connections are safer if you're using a network built around RADIUS servers

Chrome OS' printing mechanism has been made easier. You can now head to the Google Cloud Print settings under Wrench > Settings > Under the Hood.

The operating system also comes with an assortment of other security and stability fixes. Last, but not least, the Netflix app. finally works, so you can use a Chromebook or other Chrome OS empowered device as your own portable TV. On the more serious work-a-day side of life, the Citrix Receiver, which enables you to run Windows applications from a Citrix application server, is now available for Chromebooks.

That's all well and good, but I also noticed that a lot of what I thought of as simple problems are still in Chrome OS.

For example, even though Chrome OS knows that it uses Google Docs to open Microsoft Word .DOC or OpenXML or LibreOffice's Open Document Format files (ODF) in Google Docs. It still can't open these files if they're kept locally. Come on! If I can get to them from the file manager, which I can, when I try to open one, Chrome OS should use Google Docs to open the file up for me. Or, at the very least, it should give me a choice on what program to use to open a given file. This isn't rocket science.

The operating system's documentation also remains mediocre. Want to get to the Linux shell under Chrome OS' pretty face? You do that by simultaneously pressing control-alt-T. Once there, you can do things like rune Secure Shell (ssh) and other low-level controls. This command sequence isn't listed the Chrome OS keyboard overlay. Oh, that by the by, you get to by simultaneously hitting the control-alt-? keys.

I still believe that Chrome OS has great promise and Chromebooks could be winners. But, both are a long, long way from there yet.

Sure, as a techie kind of guy I think my Chromebook is a great and useful toy, but can I see ordinary businesses and people using it? No, not yet. And, if Google doesn't start improving it fast, I'm not sure I will ever see Joe and Jane User using it.

Related Stories:

Google packs Chrome Web Store with more education, business apps

The first Chromebook Review: Samsung Series 5

Five Chromebook concerns for businesses

Five Reasons why Google's Linux Chromebook is a Windows killer

How to install Google's Chrome OS

Topics: Operating Systems, Apps, Browser, Google, Mobility, Software

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49 comments
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  • An unneeded toy

    Google should be focused on updating and improving android.

    What were they thinking with this? Do they really need another platform to push?
    otaddy
    • RE: Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

      @otaddy Actually, I think that Chrome OS is more compatible with Google's cloud infrastructure and services than Android. It is a true post-PC client device. However, I'm not convinced that the broadband infrastructure can currently, or even within a few years, support the model of computing that Google envisions. Except for some very localized geographic areas.<br><br>And Android may soon be taken care of courtesy of Microsoft, Apple and Oracle. And Google's good OHA 'partners' like Verizon creating their own app stores and, in exchange for cash from Microsoft, making Bing the default search engine on their devices. Ditto for their competitors such as Amazon.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
    • RE: Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

      @otaddy They needed something like Android because HTML5 didn't yet exist. Android is just a 'necessary evil' for Google.
      silentlennie
  • Questions for SJVN

    From the blog article:
    ??I?m not sure I will ever see Joe and Jane User using it.

    Let?s look at some tasks that Joe and Jane User probably do:
    o surf the web
    o make online purchases
    o print coupons from web sites to make purchases at local brick and mortar stores
    o access and use Facebook (sorry, Google+ is beta and not ready for Joe and Jane User)
    o instant message with family and friends
    o chat with family and friends
    o use webmail (e.g., gmail) to read, forward, reply to, create and print email messages
    o read and print documents posted on the web (e.g., PDF, DOC files)
    o perform online banking
    o play some online games
    o read books
    o listen to music, news, etc. (audio streaming)
    o watch videos (video streaming)
    o online tax preparation
    o leave it on the coffee table and use it while watching TV
    o leave it on the kitchen counter and use it while standing or sitting at the breakfast bar
    o take and use it on vacation to stay in touch and keep informed

    Can the Chromebook easily do all of these tasks? If not, which of these tasks are difficult and why?

    Finally, will Joe and Jane User want to spend more than $200 for a Chromebook, a 'companion' device to their PC?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • RE: Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

      @Rabid Howler Monkey
      +1
      Ram U
    • I guess it is possible

      @Rabid Howler Monkey Most of these things already work just fine. Everything on your list which has 'online' or 'web' like webmail in them obviously works.

      Printing works, Office works. Reading books, I guess you mean ebooks ? Works through for example Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader.

      Audio and video works, I haven't tried a chromebook myself, but Chrome does support video-chat too I think. If not they started on this earlier this year and should be 'available soon'.

      Printing works, although it is a bit of a workaround I think. You'll need an other computer with a printer attached to it and have Chrome installed.

      I guess that was the end of your list.

      So yes, it works.
      silentlennie
      • RE: Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

        @silentlennie Thanks for your response. However, I was hoping to hear from someone who has actually performed (or attempted to perform) these tasks on a Chromebook. Steven? Anyone?
        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • RE: Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

        @silentlennie

        I have read seveal books on Project Gutenberg as HTML. IT works just fine in the browser. The Publishers will probably want to have some kind of DRM, but that could be included in the JavaScript of the web page.

        I would expect Amazon to do that as soon as they see enough market share to make it worth their while.
        YetAnotherBob
    • RE: Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

      @Rabid Howler Monkey I've had a Cr-48 since a few weeks after they started shipping. You can do everything on that list and a lot more. The Cr-48 doesn't handle graphics terribly well, but I think the newer hardware in commercial chromebooks really fixes that issue. The biggest issue I see with Chromebooks is price. They really need to make them closer to $250. Then I'd recommend everyone to buy one.

      I use my Chromebook all the time. With 10 hours of battery life, I just charge it about once a week and carry it with me everywhere to use as needed. Its really handy.
      superlinkx
      • RE: Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

        @superlinkx Thanks for the response. It's good to know that Chromebooks, at least functionally, are ready for use by Joe and Jane User. I actually suspected as much.

        One issue that I have seen some other Chromebook users comment on is that there are still web sites that do not support the Chrome browser very well. For example, some bank and eCommerce sites have been mentioned. And with Chrome OS, the only choice is the Chrome browser as it is the only local app provided. It would be useful if Google provided users the option of running Firefox tabs inside the Chrome browser. This would give users a bit of choice with the web browser as well as more complete coverage of the web.

        Anyway, I eagerly await Google and some OEM to come out with a Chromebook priced at or below $200.

        Cheers
        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • RE: Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

        @superlinkx
        It will probably get to $250 + $70 = $320 for 3G modem and 2 years 100MB/month for something with netbook class (low) build quality and battery life when you get a little bit of market competition. The current Acer and particularly the Samsung look like they have been specified for business users, with high build quality and long actual usage battery life, rather than the "switched on with display dimmed and no apps running" battery life quoted for most Windows netbooks and laptops.
        Mah
    • RE: Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

      @Rabid Howler Monkey
      It already does everything most home users want to do as you have listed out, although there are more goodies still to come.

      It is a complete replacement for the PC for non-computer-hobbyist home and casual users, and also for schools, public and information access terminals/kiosks (eg. libraries, use inside airliners, information workers, enterprise information and data entry systems, etc).

      The killer features compared with Windows is its statelessness, low maintenance and security aspects which are a real boon in these areas, and which Windows (nor any other fat OS) can never hope to match.

      Users are prepared to pay $500+ for the convenience and portability of iPad so I don't think the price is as sensitive as you make out, although it will no doubt come down with competition.
      Mah
  • This doesn't have market at all

    If you can have people spending $1,000 on hardware like the MacBook Air to run traditional OS's like OS X (and Windows 7) in this what we now call Cloud savvy days, its safe to say, nobody is interested in this mediocre screw-up from Page and Brin.
    adacosta38
    • Well said!

      @adacosta38 Its really not about how bad Chrome is, its about how limited it is and how much it costs? If Chrome was introduced on a Netbook spec'd hardware for $300 or less, it really would be a valid choice. I can see a lot of home users who could be fine with Chrome. But the way it was intro'd its just not worth it.
      jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376
      • RE: Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

        @jscott418

        Recast that to $200.00 or less, and i would be with you. However, never fear, that will happen. Probably with Arm as the processor(s). It may take a couple of years, but we will get there.

        That's when I expect to see the Home Server market begin to take off. An integrated home web server/Video/Computer server would make a real nice appliance. One could handle perhaps a dozen TV's, tablets, Chromebooks, and a few Video games.

        But, it's still too soon to look for that.
        YetAnotherBob
  • There is no need to upgrade hardware

    [i]... more so than with conventional PCs, you don?t need to update your hardware to get major new functionality.[/i]

    I'd like to highlight a couple of things.

    First, modern OSes, Windows 7 included do not reqiure updates to hardware to both: be easier to use and achieve the same level of performance. So, Chrome OS is not original in this regard.

    Second, what more functionality?

    New fancy graphics? Well, even Atom-based netbooks can play Netflix. Many ARM-based phones and tablets can, too. This wasn't exactly the case where Vista was released: Intel embedded graphics, baked into many laptops was inadequate, no matter which OS was used.

    More file copying speed? For Chrome that is limited by the network bandwidth, not your local SATA-III or SSD. Of course, there is no need to upgrade. But then there is no need for any other OS, when cloud storage is used.

    I am afraid that as far as Chrome is concerned, "more functionality" means making it actually usable at a level comparable to Windows 95 or Mac OS. Well, for that there is hardly need for new hardware either. But then there is no need for the new hardware for any other OS. There is not even need for a new OS - Windows XP or Mac are way better already and will be for quite some time even if they don't evolve. But they do evolve; Chrome is chasing a moving target there.

    Returning to upgrading hardware. This is necessary only if one wants an insanely hi-res monitor for heavy gaming or a "green" version of a computer that consumes 10x less power than a similarly performing hardware just a few years old. Both Intel and AMD are getting better each year in this regard, and ARM is getting better at making CPUs that can compete with Atom. This has nothing to do with the OS being used.
    Earthling2
    • RE: Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

      @Earthling2 Dude - it's sjvn - Google wrote the Bible in his eyes... the wall in our room would give you a better response.
      ItsTheBottomLine
  • RE: Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

    But I remember reading here that Chromebook does not need a update, and that was supposed to be a big plus over Windows computers.
    Raju Das
    • When you see a salesman

      ....throwing two contradictory pitches at you in order to make it stick you know that thing he sells is of snake-oil nature, and that's what this ChomrOS and HTML5 as a platform thing is all about.
      LBiege
      • RE: Google's Chrome operating system gets a much needed update

        @LBiege

        It's still too soon to tell about Chrome as an OS, but everyone except Apple is all over HTML5 right now. JavaScript is Turing complete, which means that it can do anything any other computer programming language can do. Microsoft, Mozilla and Google have been in a race for the last two years to get the speed up to where it can compete with native applications. It's now as close as Java or C#. Once again, Apple seems to be the only hold out.

        This, we are being told is the future of personal computing.

        If you are thinking Google is selling Snake-Oil, then they have lots of good company.

        Oh, and Apple will be on board with this soon too. That should make a complete list of the snakes for you.

        Chrome OS is just a light weight Linux, with a Chrome browser installed. It is as good, or as bad as Chrome is. Your Phone probably has a heavier OS. It certainly does if it is iPhone, Android or Win Phone 7.

        Personally, I prefer Firefox to Chrome.

        Well, Mozilla should have out a Firefox based tablet/netbook in a year or so. Microsoft too. I do wonder about Opera, though.
        YetAnotherBob