Thursday, September 5, 2013

Living with Chrome OS

I've been trying to wrap my head around the idea of going cloud-only. Supposedly, it is the future of computing and there are many strong advocates of Chrome OS. I've been playing with my two Chromebooks and my opinion is still the same. It will be a long time before the majority of us go cloud-only.

Here are some anecdotes  of my life with Chrome OS and Chromebooks.

Internet Connection Required.

Last week, the "old" San Francisco Bay Bridge was closed and being decommissioned. I had to take public transportation. It has been many years since I've taken the metro and bus so I wanted to go light and take my Samsung Chromebook with me.

I had my trusty Verizon LTE Mi-Fi and off I went. First of all, going in and out of tunnels of the SF BART system is not fun. My connection would drop and I really couldn't do anything. If I was using my iPad, I could easily switch to something enjoyable like off-line video editing or listen to music. Instead, the connection would drop in and out. This isn't really the fault of the Chromebook but it shows that without a network connection, the usefulness of the device is very limited.

Some of you might say, there is 16GB onboard  or I could use a USB stick to listen to music or watch video. Sure but it isn't fun. There is no way to organize photos offline in any order nor is there any way to create local music playlists. I find it odd that you couldn't pre-download tracks or playlists off your Google Music Play like you do on Android devices. Even funnier, there is no way to upload music from your Chromebook to Google Music. In short, the Samsung Chromebook wouldn't cut it as my only PC. In fact, I think it is more limited than many Android tablets.


One of the biggest problem with ChromeOS is that you can't access local network file services. Google designed ChromeOS to be a cloud operating system that access Internet sites; presumably for analytic reasons.  Hence, there is no CIF/SAMBA or NFS access. You can't access your NAS and play a video from a network volume. This significantly drop the appeal of the devices for those who want a cheap media player in their household. My work around was to use PLEX media server on one of my machines. In fact, it works pretty good I might say. For any video that my Samsung or Acer Chromebook can't play, I have an 8 core i-7 that transcodes on-the-fly. It is like having my own Netflix or youtube local server. I use the Plex web front end and access home movies and videos off my repository. It uses flash so it works amazingly well. My kid is having fun with his $122 refurb Acer C7 chromebook and it is infinitely more useful now.

Unfortunately a major blunder with ChromeOS is printing. My school grade children use their computer(s) to print homework assignments. I can get away with saving out PDFs but they can't. ChromeOS requires you to set-up a separate PC or Mac as a cloud print server. This is very clumsy at best and one of the biggest compromise you must make when you leap into the Chrome OS platform.


Generally speaking, surfing the web, watching youtube is pleasant on both the Samsung and Acer Chromebooks. However, it ends there. Beyond surfing the web, things get very cumbersome.

For example,  previewing photos is a big test of your patience. I don't know about you but I shoot with a DSLR in RAW format and edit my photos and output them out as high-res so I can use them on my TV, iPad, and other mediums. I'm not asking for much, I'm not trying to edit 25MB RAW files on my Chromebook. I've tried Pixlr and gave up. However, I do want to view 6-8MB jpegs. These are scaled down, in my opinion, medium res photos.

On a 50 Mbit cable modem line, getting thumbnails generated from my 100GB Google Drive takes over 15 minutes with a folder of 40 images. 15 minutes. Imagine doing that on the subway on a spotty LTE mi-fi connection. At one point, you want to throw out the machine against the wall.

Worst, it takes on average 2 to 3 minutes to show any image if you click on them. This is what I see all the time, the spinning ball against a black screen.

If you have a bunch of 2 megapixel wallpaper or images you downloaded from the internet, it isn't so bad. It is acceptable. However, if you have medium to high-res 14 MP jpegs, forget about it. I thought it may be the Internet connection and Google's servers generating previews of the images off some remote data-center. Nope. I downloaded the images locally and tested against inserted USB sticks.  I also waited a few days to see if there was some sort of background preview processing. Nope. Simply, any large image file will slow down both the Samsung and Acer Chromebooks to its knees. Maybe the Chromebook Pixel with it's Core i5 will fare better. Google throws you some free storage for 2 years to hook you in but if takes an hour just to casually peruse through a few dozen photos, it isn't worth it.


So there you have it. I like to try new things and walk "in the other shoes" before formulating a position. Is Chrome OS bad? No or Maybe. The hardware on these cheap devices are great.  I use my Samsung 2 hours a day on average because I like the lightweight form factor and low heat dissipation. However, in my examples above with just the OS, I think I have some fairly common use cases that a normal consumer might encounter. These examples show some of the deficiency of going Chrome OS. I'm a dad with kids who have homework assignment who needs to print. I take pictures with my DSLR and like to view them and share them with family. Again, normal use cases. I also like to occasionally watch videos from my network. I think I've said it before, you really need to be invested into Google's ecosystem to really benefit from ChromeOS and Chromebooks in general. 

It may work for you if you make the compromises and know what you are getting into. I really didn't want to buy my kid a macbook air especially at 5 years old. However, I didn't want a paper weight either. Hence, I am glad I got Plex media server hooked up for him to watch videos. This is the problem illustrated. Users will devise of compromises and work arounds like dual booting Linux or doing things like install Cruoton. These devices are great from a hardware standpoint and price ratio. Unfortunately, Chrome OS itself is very limited.


  1. Issue 160570: Samba network storage support

    I just want to put this link here so when people see this article. They go to the above link and star the issue.

  2. FYI making good progress on this on