Wake up and smell the Chrome

While reading Fred Langa's recent article about tune-up software in the Windows Secrets newsletter, I almost hit the floor. 

Recently, I've been using a Google/Samsung Chromebook and Langa's article crystallized the difference between computing with Windows and Chrome OS (the operating system that runs Chromebooks and Chromeboxes).

The phrase "night and day", doesn't do it justice.  

Fred Langa is a Windows guy and his article is well done and useful - to Windows users. But, to someone willing to think out of the box, to see the forest rather than just trees, its an eye-opener to how crude and rickety Windows is. 

I wasn't so much interested in the results of Langa's software testing as the description of how he maintains his Windows computer. He detailed his routine to make it clear that there shouldn't be any problems on his computer. If the tune-up software being tested found problems (and they all found hundreds, but that's another story) it said more about the software than the computer. 

This is Langa's ongoing care and feeding routine for his Windows machine: 

  1. Constantly running antivirus software 
  2. Constantly running Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (to catch what the antivirus software misses) 
  3. From "time to time" he runs still more antivirus software (ESET’s Online Scanner, Microsoft’s Safety Scanner and Trend Micro’s House Call)
  4. Windows Update keeps the OS patched 
  5. Secunia PSI keeps the "most important software up to date and free of known security issues" (he didn't say how he updates the un-important software).  
  6. To remove bogus Registry entries, junk files and cookies he uses Piriform’s CCleaner and/or Macecraft’s free PowerTools’ Lite every day. 
  7.  For "a deeper, more controlled cleaning" he uses Macecraft’s jv16 PowerTools 
  8. Spinning-platter hard drives are defragged nightly 
  9. The system "backs itself up automatically every morning" 

And, as Langa says "There’s more, but the above steps and apps typically provide everything I need to reliably keep my PC clean, well optimized, stable, and secure". 


From my Defensive Computing perspective, it's an impressive list. But, compare it to what's needed to keep the Chromebook in tip top shape: 

  1.  Reboot it once a month (give or take) if an indicator appears in the bottom right corner of the screen to indicate that there is a pending OS update

But even that's optional, because the system will run just fine without installing the pending upgrade. Chrome OS works just like Google's Chrome browser in that respect. 

And Chromebook users probably reboot regularly (as opposed to using sleep mode) because it's fast and extends the battery life. My Chromebook shuts down faster than Windows 7 goes to sleep, and, it cold boots faster than Windows wakes up from sleeping. 

I suspect that, at least in part, this speed stems from the integration of the hardware and the software, a model that seems to be serving Apple well. 

If nothing else, this integration means Chrome OS users don't have to worry about drivers, something that's often a problem on other versions of Linux and frequently ignored by Windows users. When it came to drivers, by the way, the tune-up software Langa tested screwed up big time. Tune up software (and the scare tactics Langa documented) is also not needed with Chrome OS. 

Since Chromebooks and Chromeboxes all use SSDs, Chrome OS users never have to defrag. They have no registry to clean. There are no viruses to be concerned with either (Chrome OS is a specially hardened version of Linux). 

This should bring to mind the scene from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (the one with the whales) where Scotty tries to talk to 1980s era computer and when instructed to use the keyboard instead, refers to it as "quaint". 

Chromebooks (and Chromeboxes) are a new thing.

Computing will eventually leave behind the quaint operating systems that depended on the end user for so much of their care and feeding. Leo Notenboom says, in the lead to his ask-leo.com site, "Computers are too hard to use." To me, they are too hard for non-techies to maintain. 

Some people will need to drive a stick shift, but many will be happy with the computing equivalent of an automatic transmission. 

Chromebooks though, may be too new and too different for some people to grasp. After all, to a man with a hammer, everything is a nail. 

Yes, a Chromebook is less functional than a laptop running Windows, OS X or Linux. But, it requires no maintenance. Let me say that again: no maintenance. Try and let that sink in, if not for yourself (this is Computerworld after all), then for the non-techies you know. A Chromebook needs no care and feeding. 

There are many use cases for Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. John C. Dvorak bought a Chromebox for his kitchen. As I recently suggested, they offer what is probably the safest online experience out there, making them perfect for financial transactions.

More on this to come. 

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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