I wrote the intro to this article in Word on a prior-generation Chromebook while using the cloud. Sound impossible? Not for Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) . The new Chrome OS, released last week, features a simplified remote desktop app that granted me access to my Mac via the Chromebook. All I had to do was open a new file in Word and start writing.
To be fair, the experience wasn't perfect. Twice the software tried to kick me off the remote desktop. Only being close to my Mac to click a "continue" button granted me further access. Clicking the same button via the Chromebook did nothing.
But this is a minor complaint, especially since the app is in beta. The remainder of the new Chrome OS isn't, and its features transform a marginally useful machine into a very useful machine. Here's a closer look at what's new:
- Multiple screens and tabs. Previously, Chrome limited users to a single screen and multiple browser tabs. The new version embeds a tool for resizing and tiling two screens next to each other while preserving the option to have multiple tabs open. Users can also minimize screens a la Windows or Mac OS X.
- Pinning and a new applications bar. A bottom-left toolbar provides space for app icons. Clicking on any one of them -- Google's various apps are included as a starter list -- launches the app in a new browser tab. Users can also "pin" any frequently used browser app to this area.
- A simplified control panel. Off to the right of the home screen are icons for Wi-Fi access, battery life, and system settings. Desktop PC and Mac users will find the design both useful and familiar.
"People participate in ecosystems. If you are a Chrome browser user, an Android user and a Gmail user, a Chromebook is a more natural experience than a Windows 8," Sundar Pichai, Google's senior vice president in charge of Chrome and Apps, told The New York Times in an interview.
That's been true for me as a cross-platform Mac user. Browser-based apps from Google and others allow me to work away from my desk, where having the generally portable and power-efficient Chromebook is more convenient.
But as a primary-machine OS, I still don't see Chrome supplanting Windows or Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) increasingly popular Mac system anytime soon. There's too much useful software designed and compiled for specific operating systems, with Microsoft's Office suite topping that list.
Still, let's give credit to Google for taking a huge step. The new Chrome OS not only makes the Chromebook and Google's own cloud-based software easier to use, but also adds critical cross-platform compatibility via remote access. Well done, sirs.
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