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Chrome OS: Microsoft’s dream OS

What Microsoft has failed at time and again, Google might achieve with its ChromeOS, or perhaps Microsoft will get their first on their own

So, I was running Windows 8 since it was available as a Technical Preview. I had seen a video or two on YouTube about Metro apps and I mistakenly believed that it was merely a program suite, like Windows Media Centre. Little did I know that Metro was purported to be the entire OS. It took me few days to get used to the quirky ways of Windows 8. But, when you are in love, you accept flaws, you have to cooperate. So, I used Mail instead of Thunderbird, I used that grossly unfinished Music and Video app instead of Windows Media Player and VLC (I had to return to VLC time and again since Video couldn’t run most formats). I even purchased a touch laptop. Mind you, it was 2014! I tried Metro apps when their web/desktop counterparts were way more mature. But, love has its limits. I gave up.

metro apps
Metro apps on Microsoft Windows 8

Microsoft like a forsaken lover promised that it has changed. Windows 10 was released. I decided to give her a last chance. Things indeed got better: return of start menu, more consistent design, new browser, UWP apps, Tablet Mode, development based on consumer feedback, few significantly mature apps from Microsoft and other similar stuff. Yet, PC sales continue to decline, and even after forced upgrades and dozen other marketing tricks, Windows 10 is not the success Microsoft claimed it would be. So, what went wrong?

What went wrong?

For years, Microsoft had a dominant position in the desktop OS market. The threat to that dominance didn’t come from competitor’s desktop Operating Systems, but from a completely different market of computing devices: smartphones and tablets. In a bid to conquer all worlds, Microsoft came up with Windows 8. It turned out to be a disaster. With Windows 10 Microsoft though fixed most of the misery of Windows 8, yet it has not abandoned its dream of creating a unified Operating System. To achieve that goal, they started adding a heck lot of features to Windows 10 with every new build. And though, it is not as messy as Windows 8, simplicity in not something Windows 10 can boast of. And here starts the problem.

With the latest Creator’s Update, I now have a Mixed Reality Portal app (though my machine doesn’t meet the minimum requirements), a Paint3D app and a View3D app, and I can’t uninstall either of these apps. And let’s be honest, Cortana seldom gets anything done. It’s a gimmick! Any of the tasks that Microsoft wants us to get accomplished with Cortana, can be done considerably faster with few taps or clicks. The best Cortana can do is to sync notifications with your Android phone, or to mimic Human conversational skills (try your luck, mostly it returns a Bing search). Windows Ink’s integration in Maps, Browser, etc., like many other features of Windows 10, is useful only if you have a touch-enabled PC. Similarly, Action Centre makes no great difference to computing experience on Windows. The primary issue is that there are very few apps that make use of Action Centre (for that matter, there are very few usable apps in the Store). Everything else that the Action Centre does was handled quite well by the Notification area in Windows 7. And, live tiles, the innovation that started the whole saga of Metro with Windows Phone 7 – Microsoft pushed this claim that Tiles were a novel idea since they not only served as a shortcut to the app but also showcased useful information without the user having to open the app itself. Well, for the sake of example, Widgets have been doing the same thing since Android 1.5. Also, let’s compare Android Widgets and Tiles in this regard. Tiles, as of now, either show a picture or some text information; Android on the other hand, allows the user to interact with the widgets. For example, Whatsapp Tile could only tell you the number of new messages you have, while the android widget allows you a complete sneak peek of the Whats app home screen as if the app was actually open. Or, a music app Tile would only show you the album art on Windows, while the widget allows you to change the track, turn on/off shuffle/repeat, see the queue list, etc. There have been talks of interactive tiles as well, but it has been more than a year, and to reach the maturity level of Android widgets would take tiles much more time than expected, given the fact that even the present live tiles are seldom live on current builds (See Windows Feedback app on live tiles issues).

paint 3D
The new Paint3D on Windows 10

Simplicity lost

The point is that Windows 10 can do a heck lot of stuff, but an average user doesn’t want to do that heck lot of stuff. He wants to quickly get his work done and then live his life. He wants simplicity. Windows 10 gives him Blue Screen of Death so often that it has become completely acceptable and he can’t even complain. I decided to dump Windows 10 one fine morning when I had a project due and Windows 10 had to update. Now, as it happens so often with these updates, it got stuck at 99%. It remained stuck for hours and hours. I was done with Windows 10. I was done with the forced updates, with the BSODs, with wasting time in setting my PC every now and then so as to adjust to Microsoft’s stupid features and updates. Sticky notes, anyone? An Operating System is supposed to assist me, not the other way round.

Windows 10 chrome

As far as simplicity is concerned, no one can match Google’s Chrome OS. Our favourite Chrome Browser and that is it. No gimmicks, no fancy features, no interrupting updates. The equation further changes with the support for android apps being brought to ChromeOS. That’s exactly what Microsoft wanted to do with Windows – to bring modern, touch-friendly apps to the desktop. But, developers never seemed to like the idea. And why would they? Microsoft has changed its strategy regarding mobile apps since the days of Windows Mobile 6.0 so many times, then developing on account of Microsoft’s wild claims would be like trusting Donald Trump for The Presidency. (Wait, you did that? Never mind.) And, it’s just not about the number of apps in the Store. More often than not, if an app makes its way to the Windows Store it is buggy, crashes frequently, and is utterly immature as compared to its Android or iOS counterpart.

Hopeless

Also, this is not going to change in future. With Microsoft’s amazing support for its Windows Phone 10 Mobile, it’d be stupid to invest any money on an UWP app, when you know people seldom use apps on PC. Just go through the Windows Store and Play Store, and compare the app usage patterns. It’s hilarious. And in that perspective, everything that is “cool” about Windows: Action Centre, Cortana, Holographic technology, everything becomes insignificant. There are no apps to make use of these features. Let us also not be too easy with Chrome OS. Android apps still don’t adapt to a large screen as expected, and the experience is far from satisfactory. But, it ought to be remembered that Play Store is still in beta, and things will only become better with Android O. All that these apps need is optimisation for larger screens. And though, it seems to be an equally disadvantageous position, on further thought, waiting for developers to build apps definitely sucks more than optimisation of pre-existing touch-friendly apps.

Chrome OS
Chrome OS

Also, when I say that most apps are useless on the desktop, I mean to take the discussion to webapps. And, Google has covered that part as well. The android apps are secondary to the Chrome OS, since it has already established a name in the market with its simple browser-only approach. The future of OS apparently lies with the web. People don’t download Facebook’s app on Windows 10, because they don’t need to, they have access to the full Facebook website. Mobile browsers are not as powerful as their desktop siblings, and that’s why we have apps. But, the obvious course of development shall be making the mobile browser powerful, not bringing the mobile apps to the desktop. Notifications for websites, and the recent development of Progressive Web Apps that mimic native apps, are steps in this regard. Web apps so easily provide the consistency between devices that Microsoft has promised us so many times. And I know that you can install Chrome on Windows, but how would you get rid of the other awesomeness of Windows 10? The best thing about Chrome is that it prioritizes seamless browsing experience over anything else. Compare this with Edge that boasts of a new fancy feature with every new release but fail to handle few complex tabs without crashing. And, even feature wise Chrome OS survived without any native apps, not only because web today is so amazing, but also because of its richly stocked webstore. Comparing extensions on both browsers would be a merciless act. Now, imagine your computing experience on a Windows 10 S machine: no Chrome, no Firefox, no Win32 apps, but worry not, you have the mighty Edge and the amazing Windows Store.

Windows 10 tablet mode
Tablet mode in Windows 10

The Ultimate Operating System

To be frank, our quest for the ultimate Operating System is a work in progress, no matter what team you belong to. But, look at Microsoft’s big strategies: Win32 apps on ARM, Continuum on Windows Phone, Windows 10 S. What do these solutions mean? 1. Microsoft doesn’t have modern touch-friendly apps. 2. Making run Win32 apps on phones and tablets won’t make them touch-friendly. 3. Classic users of Win32 apps already have their best Windows operating system. (Hint: Windows 7). 4. With all the toil and trouble, Microsoft has substantially nothing to offer to either to the power user or to the modern user.

On the other hand, Chrome OS has a ready-made collection of thousands of mature apps. It just needs to make them run well on Chrome OS, and with all the developments so far Google deserves some trust and support. Also, Chrome browser itself continues to change our computing patterns with simple and easy innovations. And, Microsoft innovates too. Holographic technology, Surface Studio and Dial, Paint 3D, these are amazing developments. But, our work and personal needs aren’t going to change overnight. At present, we just need a simple, fast and yet functional operating system, just like the one in our mobile devices. Microsoft realised our needs, but, Windows 10 sadly isn’t that operating system. Chrome OS could be.

Note: This article was originally contributed by a reader for our community section. The section intends to showcase writing talent from readers who wish to contribute to the magazine. None of the above is to be construed as technical advice. The views expressed are of the contributors alone and not necessarily endorsed by Digit.

This article was first published in the June 2017 issue of Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.

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Ankit Yadav