One browser to rule them all? Thoughts on Chrome OS

For about 48 hours last week, I thought there was a chance I was getting one of Google’s CR-48 notebook computers they’re giving away as part of the Chrome OS pilot.

The pilot program was announced while I was in San Francisco. Oh a whim from my hotel room, I filled out the form to join the lottery of folks willing to volunteer just to see what would happen. I’m pretty satisfied with my all-Mac life. I just crave the latest round of MacBook Airs for their battery life and light weight. The CR-48 would have been an improvement on my MacBook’s 3 hours of battery life and 4.5 lbs. on my back.

Didn’t think much about it until the CR-48 tracker came out. I entered my zip code and to my surprise there was a unit heading towards my town of approximately 12,000 people. Pretty good odds considering how rural this area is. Alas, on 12/15 the computer was delivered to its recipient and unless the UPS driver hid it under my porch or behind a bush, it wasn’t me. 

That little window of “what if” gave me time to read about Chrome OS and I quickly came to the realization that although I would gladly take a computer freely delivered on my doorstep, I’m not that disappointed.

I understand that this is a plain vanilla reference computer, so I’m not going to nit over the trackpad or lack of a caps lock key like others have. When Chrome OS devices are real and being sold to people for money, those kinds of things will be taken care of. Instead, I’m thinking bigger picture and for me, it comes down to 2 main sticking points:

Google customer support

Or lack thereof. I love Google stuff. But when there’s a problem that’s not the same problem that everyone else is having, getting one-on-one support from Google is a pipe dream. Figuring out unique issues is painful. Often infuriating. I will crowd-source the heck out of an issue. I’ll search Twitter. Search support forums. Post questions. But sometimes, you just need someone who can log in as a super user on your account and figure out why you are having a unique issue and help fix it. Will Google rely entirely on the hardware partners for this? I hope not.

A couple of weeks ago, my Carbonite backup account started stalling and failing, taking my CPU and RAM down as it beachball-of-death spun with 3 GB of data not backed up. After a bunch of back and forth emails with Carbonite tech support, trying everything they suggested with no success, I finally got someone on the phone who sat with me for 45 minutes. She knew what she was doing. She remotely logged in to my machine, and eventually figured out my overnight local SuperDuper backup was crossing streams with Carbonite. She helped me set SuperDuper to not try and backup Carbonite, and Carbonite to not backup SuperDuper. It’s been behaving flawlessly ever since. That’s how it should be done.

Google has the worst reputation for customer support. All you can do most of the time is either kvetch on Twitter or post to their help forums and wait for 50 other people to say “me too” until someone in-the-know comes along and addresses the issue. Or not. Apparently they promise to support CR-48 owners in the pilot program, but I’ve seen no evidence of what this actually means. It seems to me that with Android, Google relies on the carriers and device manufacturers to deliver support they won’t. Thankfully, their software is excellent and doesn’t need a lot of support, but that’s no excuse not to provide it.

Do I really want to have my CR-48 as my primary machine on a road trip and have an issue with no way to get actual help? Yes, I called AppleCare from my cell phone in a hotel room once. May never use live human support, but I’d like to know it’s an option I can trust in a pinch. Otherwise, I can play around with the CR-48, but I can’t really see if I can live with it. Which leads me to the second concern…

One browser can’t quite rule them all

Even though I do use a lot of desktop tools on my iMac, I can go for long stretches living only online from my MacBook or iPhone. Worst comes to worst, I use LogMeIn to remotely control my iMac and run desktop applications. If anyone can make a cloud-only computer work, it’s me. I haven’t used a desktop email client in years. If I’m not online, there isn’t much I can do at a keyboard. I’m perfect for this kind of computer.

Fact is, I can live my entire computer life in a browser…the challenge is that I can’t live my entire computer life in ONE browser.

Chrome is fantastic. It’s my default browser on all my Macs and has been for quite some time. But… Convio’s admin site doesn’t work 100% in Chrome, so when I have to edit an email in WYSIWYG mode I have to use Firefox. Parts of Salesforce are still a little iffy in Chrome. DreamTeam, the application from within Salesforce that we use for project management (for the time being) works best in Safari of all the Mac browsers. LogMeIn works better from Firefox or Safari than Chrome. Thank goodness we are no longer using ADP for payroll, otherwise I’d have to do that in Internet Explorer. It’s not uncommon for me to have at least 2 browsers open at any one time. And a few Chrome Incognito windows open so I can be logged in to different sessions/gApps accounts at once. If Chrome OS is going to tie me to one Google account, how can I get things done the way I’m used to? Or are you only meant to check Facebook, email and play simple games with this thing?

Right now Chrome OS and the CR-48 are the new shiny. I’m as curious as anyone who has an early adopter spirit. It will be interesting to see what happens come January when folks who got these first round units get over the initial tinker mode and get down to day-to-day business.

A computer that is designed to only be online is one thing…a computer that is only a single browser is something else. 

Can Google pull it off? I’m not sure. 

What do you think?