What can you do with an operating system that only works when you’re connected to the Internet? That was the reaction I most frequently heard in the early days of Google’s Chrome OS, which was essentially a Web browser that got you to all your online apps.
But Chromebooks, the machines that run Chrome OS, are showing unexpected resiliency. It’s hard to believe after Apple’s long dominance there, but Chromebooks are now outselling not just Apple’s hardware, but all other devices combined in the education market. Apple’s iPad is a beautiful device, but Chromebooks are quickly becoming something other than cheap also-rans.
In fact, manufacturers like HP and Dell, sensing a market opening in the business arena as well, are beginning to offer Chromebooks with larger screens, more processing power and better designs. Google has announced that by this fall, Chromebooks will be able to run all Android apps, which means that users will be able to go well beyond Google as they choose their programs. Until now, working offline with a Chromebook meant using only Google’s office apps.
Market trends come and go, and I would be the last to say that Apple and Microsoft are in danger of being eclipsed by Chromebooks. But the comparison is telling. Consider: When I’m working with Google Docs, which is where I do 99 percent of all my writing, I have a word processor that updates on the fly and does everything I need a word processor to do. Because I am working in the “cloud,” dealing with hardware elsewhere on the Net, upgrades are easy.
In fact, Chrome OS upgrades itself all the time as new features are added and others tweaked. Here the issue of operating systems takes a huge turn, for unlike any other OS, Chrome OS does all of its upgrading in the background. Users don’t experience upgrades as time-wasting interludes, but continue to work straight through. You have to live with the concept a bit to realize how much time and aggravation the upgrades to other operating systems can cause.
Take Microsoft 10, which has received its share of bad press of late because of the company’s insistence on getting Windows 7 and 8.1 users to make the switch. You wouldn’t think there would be any rush on this, but the powers that be in Redmond clearly want to bring the numbers up – Windows 10 is already at 300 million – to encourage developers to produce more apps compatible with the system not just on desktop PCs but on tablets and smartphones.
What to do?
Watching my wife’s PC continually popping up windows with confusing messages has been instructive. At one point, her Windows 7 machine was getting an upgrade encouragement box that offered two buttons. One said ‘Upgrade Now.’ The other said ‘Upgrade Tonight.’
What to do? Click the “X” at the upper right corner. Then she started getting messages telling her she was scheduled for a “recommended” upgrade, because Microsoft had declared Windows 10 “recommended” rather than “optional.” Bypassing the big OK button on this notification meant finding much smaller type – clicking the “X” no longer did the trick. But I had set up my wife’s machine to automatically install recommended updates, which it then proceeded to do.
And that’s why I woke up in the middle of the night to find strange lights playing over the walls of the room next door. Investigating, I found an unasked-for Windows 10 upgrade in full progress.
Are you wondering why Chromebooks are beginning to gain traction? They’ve had a lot to overcome, including the perception that they are too light on processing power. But all that is changing as the market for computers that don’t make you fear the next upgrade cycle continues to grow. International Data Corporation projects that by 2018, 25 percent of U.S. enterprises will be using Chromebooks. An outcome like that might force Microsoft to re-think operating system upgrade policies for consumers and business clients alike.
Paul A. Gilster is the author of several books on technology. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.