A week with Chrome OS
Can a web-only Chromebook replace a Windows laptop for a week of work and play?
Laptops editor Sasha Muller set aside his usual machine and picked up a Chromebook to test how well it stands up to remote working, document sharing and – of course – Angry Birds.
For someone raised on Windows and acutely tuned to the sluggish boot times, cluttered desktops and the constant visual hum of pop-ups and notifications, my first moments with Google’s OS were notable for their disconcerting sense of calm.
That introduction to Chrome OS must have had a brain-dulling effect, as I hit my first snag during the brief touchpad tutorial. After mastering the art of the left-click, the two-fingered right-click and the two-fingered scroll, I found myself endlessly running through the drag-and-drop tutorial, impatiently waiting to be moved on to the next page.
It turns out you’re meant to stop once you have the hang of it; not drag the little Chrome icon to and fro like a dog chasing a stick.
My mild attack of idiocy aside, getting up and running is a gloriously slick experience.
Unlike the average Windows laptop, there’s no onslaught of nagging pop-ups, click-through wizards and endless updates
Unlike the average Windows laptop, there’s no onslaught of nagging pop-ups, click-through wizards and endless updates. As I use the Chrome browser on my normal work laptop, and allow it to sync personal data to my Google account, it took mere seconds for all my saved apps and bookmarks to automatically appear on the Chromebook.
Stored passwords seamlessly make their way across, too, and all the usual business-critical essentials – such as Facebook, TweetDeck and the BBC Wimbledon feed – were soon up and running. So far, so good.
It isn’t until someone takes Windows away that you realise quite how much of your time you spend in the browser. With multiple tabs open – Gmail, PC Pro’s website, our office webmail client and TweetDeck – I whiled away most of the working day sourcing review products and chipping away at a mountain of unread email.
With only two hours left of the working day, there was only one sensible course of action: to pay my first visit to the Chrome Web Store – the repository of its “so-called” apps – to ensure that Angry Birds HD was a faithful rendition of the bird-flinging gaming experience.
Come 6pm, further testing was required, so I packed up the Chromebook and cycled home to conduct a more comprehensive evaluation.
While webmail access to my work email proved adept enough for basic reading and replying, the lack of basic functions – any type of search facility, for one – soon started to grate.
So, my first real challenge was getting at the company’s Microsoft Exchange server. After a lengthy stare at Chrome’s Web Store, and some optimistic Googling around the subject, I came to one conclusion: there are zero in-browser email clients that can directly serve Microsoft Exchange accounts.
Not all hope was lost, however. After a quick email to our IT department, I managed to gain access via the company’s POP3 server, redirecting my email into a specific Gmail folder. Not ideal, and due to the lack of SSL encryption, certainly not secure, but just about workable (once I’d persuaded IT there was nothing more commercially sensitive in my inbox than an email to Darien reminding him about that fiver he owed me).