Operating Systems

Can Google Drive and Docs Add More Shine to Chrome OS?

Despite light sales of its Chromebook laptops, Google on Wednesday released version 20 of its Chrome operating system.

Chrome 20 contains various new features and tweaks, as well as improvements to security and stability features. It also now supports Google Drive and lets users edit Google Docs offline.

“We have announced and shown Drive and Offline editing for Docs coming to Chrome OS ‘in the next version’ which is today,” Google spokesperson Jessica Kositz told TechNewsWorld.

“Read-only offline was available since last year, and was already in beta,” Kositz continued. “Anyone who wanted to use the beta channel could see the updates.”

New Features in Chrome 20

In addition to supporting Google Drive and offering offline support of Google Docs, Chrome 20 has updates to Pepper Flash, crash fixes, a redesigned user interface to Cr-48 systems, and an open source touchpad driver on Cr-48s.

Pepper Flash is the nickname for a cross-platform application programming interface (API) for Web browsers that’s been developed jointly by Google and Adobe. It’s used in Chromium and Google Chrome.

Chromium is an open source browser project at Google that’s behind the Google Chrome browser. Chromium OS is its counterpart for the Google Chrome OS.

The Cr-48 is Google’s Chromebook.

Chrome 20’s new UI is Google’s Aura.

Chrome 20 also fixes a problem on Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 that may cause the OS to hang while streaming audio is being played. Further, it includes security fixes for several bugs.

Can We Work it Out?

“For the few folks that have and are still using, Chromebooks, these improvements will be well-received,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “For the other 99.9 percent of PC and tablet users, this is just noise.”

Usage numbers for Chromebooks are small, and the system looks so much like a browser platform that “users will see a little improvement but not much, particularly if they are, like most, leaving their Chromebooks on the shelf and have gone back to using their laptops or have moved to iPads,” Enderle continued.

Actual sales numbers for Chromebooks are unclear, but one month after they hit the market in June of last year, they made some impact. Acer’s 11.6-inch US$350 Chromebook was among the top five best sellers on Amazon in July, Channelnomics reported. However, those sales were mainly through retail channels, and there were few, if any, business-to-business sales.

Why There’s Little Love for Chromebooks

Chromebooks “sell poorly because they are a crippled product and they aren’t marketed on their advantages,” Enderle opined.

“The problem is that Chrome is a hosted OS solution, and the entire computing environment isn’t in the mode for a completely hosted solution,” Jim McGregor, president of Tirias Research, told TechNewsWorld. “You’ll need connectivity all the time, and you’ll need the bandwidth, and many apps aren’t even designed for that environment.”

The current computing environment “is a hybrid world, and with the restraints on bandwidth, I don’t see, moving forward, a demand for hosted solutions,” McGregor continued. “Theoretically, it’s a great idea, but we don’t have the bandwidth, and wireless is going to continue to be an issue.”

Back in 2011, it cost an end user $1,000 a year in subscriptions if they purchased a Chromebook, Channelnomics estimated. Given that wireless carriers have introduced tiered pricing and the cost of data has increased, communication costs for Chromebooks might be even higher now. Meanwhile, tablet sales, especially iPad sales, are cannibalizing demand for netbooks, notebooks and laptops.

It’s not possible to position the Chrome OS against other OSes like the forthcoming Windows 8 or Mac OS X because “it remains a crippled product,” Enderle said. “This announcement [of Chrome 20] doesn’t fix that.” Merging the Android and Chrome platforms, as Google has promised to do, is the only move that “provides any real future for the Chromebook effort.”

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