It happens like clockwork: Every time we start talking about Google's Chrome OS, the same set of misconceptions gets brought up and tossed around.
As I prepare to review the Chromebook Pixel -- Google's new touchscreen Chrome OS computer -- I thought it'd be worth addressing a few of the most common myths about the cloud-centric platform.
Here we go:
Myth #1: You can't do much of anything on a Chrome OS device.
Sorry, ladies and gents, but this simply isn't true. Chrome OS is a different type of computing environment than what most of us are used to, but that doesn't mean it can't do anything. It just means it does things in a different way.
As a cloud-centric operating system, Chrome OS is focused primarily on Web-based applications. So, no, you can't install Microsoft Word on a Chromebook, as Chrome OS doesn't use traditional local PC software -- but you can use a Web-based office suite like Google Docs, which has matured into a viable alternative to Microsoft's costly utility.
People often point out that you can't use Photoshop on a Chromebook, and that's true -- but you can use the integrated Chrome OS image editor for basic tweaks or any number of more fully featured Web-based alternatives, like Pixlr's very decent suite of online image editing utilities.
Similarly, you can't use iTunes, but you can use Google Music or any other Web-based music-streaming app. You can also pop in a memory card or USB flash drive and play local music through Chrome OS's integrated media player.
From video editing to CAD work, you'd be surprised at how much stuff you can accomplish with Web-based applications. To be sure, Chrome OS isn't the right setup for everyone; as I've said in my coverage of the platform from day one, if you rely on resource-intensive local programs or have specific desktop utilities you can't live without, a Chromebook probably isn't the answer for you. The same can be said if you aren't keen on the concept of cloud storage.
To claim that Chrome OS can't do anything, though, is just misunderstanding how the platform works -- not to mention how a growing number of consumers actually use computers.
Myth #2: Chrome OS is completely useless without an Internet connection.
This one's more of a dated notion than anything: When Chrome OS first debuted, its offline functionality was rather limited. These days, that's no longer the case.
The Chrome OS Gmail app allows you to read and write emails without an active Internet connection, while the Google Docs app lets you view, edit, and create documents online or off.
Google Calendar has an offline mode as well, and the Chrome Web Store has hundreds of third-party Chrome apps with robust offline capabilities -- everything from games (Angry Birds, Solitaire, Pac-Man) to news and sports (NYTimes, 365Scores) and general utilities (a Gmail-synced to-do list, scientific calculator, audio transcription tool).
Apps aside, the basic operating system has a full-fledged file manager with a native media player for both audio and video. Other than tasks that would inherently require an active connection on any computer -- looking at Web pages, retrieving new email, and so forth -- there's really not a whole lot a Chromebook can't do when it's away from the cloud.
Myth #3: You could just open a full-screen Chrome browser window on any PC and get the same experience you'll get on a Chromebook -- plus a lot more.
This statement -- typically made, in my experience, by someone who's never used the current Chrome OS for any extensive period of time -- represents a core misunderstanding of what the platform is all about. Sure, you could run most Web-based applications from any PC. But to say that's the same thing as using Chrome OS is grossly missing the point.
The reason Chrome OS doesn't run local applications and act like a traditional PC environment is because the type of person the platform is designed for doesn't need local applications or a traditional PC environment -- and eliminating those elements allows some attractive benefits to be added in.
By their very nature, Chrome OS systems boot up and get you online almost instantly. And that's just the start. As I wrote while covering Chrome OS last summer:
Startup speed aside, the Chrome OS systems make a lot of things about traditional computing environments feel outdated: the cumbersome setup and installation procedures; the annoying and time-consuming OS upgrades; the need to manually update applications over time; the need to use antivirus software (and the accompanying likelihood and potential consequences of infection); the reliance on complicated drivers; and the inevitable bogged-down, slowed-down effect that always seems to happen to PCs after you've had 'em for a few months.
Chrome OS is constantly improving, with new software updates streaming onto your device seamlessly in the background every few weeks. Factor in Google's universal syncing system -- in which all of your data, settings, extensions, and applications are instantly synced across all devices -- and you've got a unique sort of setup that's certainly not the same as what you get on a traditional PC.
I'll say it again: Chrome OS isn't right for everyone -- and that's okay. It doesn't have to be. Like anything, it has its share of pros and cons, and what makes sense for one person doesn't necessarily make sense for the next.
No matter how you look at it, though, dismissing an entire platform based on inaccurate information sure seems like a silly thing to do.
More Chrome OS coverage:
• Chromebook Pixel review: A luxury laptop for life in the cloud
• Putting the Chromebook Pixel in perspective
• Chrome OS reviewed: The final verdict on Google's cloud platform