Spending the entire week working with an Android smartphone and a ChromeBook was as much a test of personal cloud computing as of Google software.
Although there’s 16GB of local storage, the ChromeBook normally stores documents remotely, possibly on the other side of the world, on Google Drive. Likewise mail doesn’t sit in local storage but in Google’s Gmail service – in the cloud.
Personal cloud computing is no longer strange or exotic. I’ve using it for a decade. Longer if you consider Hotmail as a cloud service.
My Gmail account dates back to 2004. I’m not sure when I first used Google Docs – probably not long after. I do know from 2008 to earlier this year I used Docs every working day to write an online column.
Today I have active accounts on Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, Dropbox and iCloud. I now store all my work in at least two cloud accounts as well as on my hard drive. There’s no way I’m going to lose everything at once.
ChromeBook extends move to cloud
In other words, there’s nothing unusual about the cloud. What is different is that with Windows, iOS or OS X, cloud technology is an optional extra. With Chrome OS, cloud is baked in. The operating system is designed around the cloud.
So using a ChromeBook means moving from being a cloud visitor to being a cloud resident. It’s not a big jump.
Most of the time you don’t notice much difference from everyday computing. That changes if you have a poor internet connection or suddenly become untethered from the net. Even then, you can configure the ChromeBook to run Google Docs, Gmail and presumably most other apps in an online mode.
Like all cloud computing, if anything goes wrong on one device, being able to pick up from where you left off on another device is powerful and reassuring.
Sure things now work this way in the Apple and Microsoft technology stacks – but they are relative newcomers to this style of computing. Google’s software on the other hand was born in the cloud and is a relative newcomer to coming in its own hardware package.
Chrome OS’s newness shows. The operating system is unpolished and has many rough edges.
I found two of those rough edges were almost too difficult to live with.
Top of my list is the local file manager. Most of the time you don’t need to use it. However, if I want to edit a photo before loading it on the web site, I need to download a local copy to work with. The file manager is crude and difficult to deal with. Once the storage starts to fill with files, finding one is a challenge.
Much the same happens once you’ve downloaded more than a handful of Chrome OS apps, it’s not easy to find the one you want.
During my week with the ChromeBook I used multiple tabs but I never had more than one window open. I only discovered it was possible as I was finishing up.
On the other hand there’s Android
If Chrome OS is unpolished, hope is Android shaped. The last time I worked with an Android device, less than a year ago, it still had the same unfinished feel I found in Chrome OS.
At the time Android was clearly a generation behind iOS or Windows Phone. Since then it has sharpened up. The Sony Xperia Z1 I used during my Google technology stack week uses Android 4.2, there have been two upgrades since and Android is now on 4.4.
While Android 4.2 on the Xperia Z1 is still a less complete experience that iOS 7 or Windows Phone 8, the gap has closed considerably. In particular, there’s now a much tighter integration between Android and Google’s apps – and, by extension, with Google’s cloud services.
If you own an Android phone and commit to Google’s technology – it doesn’t have be an exclusive relationship – you’ll find plenty to like and lots to make you productive.
When I started on the Google technology stack week, I was confident I’d able to get my work done. Even so, I worried there might be a serious productivity hit, or that I would bump against frustrations. In truth there has been less of that than I expected.