A week of Google-only working with an Android phone and a ChromeBook tests personal cloud computing.
Chromebooks are all about cloud. While they have local storage, ChromeBooks store most documents in Google Drive. Likewise, they don’t store mail messages locally but in Google’s Gmail service — in the cloud.
Cloud computing is no longer strange or exotic. Many of us have used it for a decade. Longer if you consider Hotmail to be cloud.
My Gmail account started in 2004. Not long after I began using Google Docs.
Today I have active cloud accounts on Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, Dropbox and iCloud. All my work is stored in at least two cloud accounts as well as on A hard drive. There’s little chance of losing everything at once.
ChromeBook extends cloud
There is nothing unusual about the cloud. With Windows, iOS or OS X, cloud is optional. Chrome OS has baked-in cloud. Google designed the operating system around the cloud.
Using a ChromeBook means moving from being a cloud visitor to being a cloud resident. It’s not a big jump.
Most of the time you don’t notice much difference from everyday computing. That changes if you have a poor internet connection or suddenly become untethered from the net. Even then, you can configure ChromeBook to run Google Docs, Gmail and other apps offline.
Like all cloud computing, if anything goes wrong on one device, being able to pick up from where you left off on another device is powerful and reassuring.
Sure things now work this way with Apple and Microsoft technology – but they are relative newcomers to this style of computing. Google’s software on the other hand was born in the cloud.
Chrome OS has rough edges.
Two of these rough edges are almost too difficult to live with.
First; the local file manager. Most of the time you don’t need it. But if you want to edit a photo before loading it to a web site, you download a local copy to work with. The file manager is crude and difficult to deal with. Once the storage starts to fill with files, finding an individual file is a challenge.
Much the same happens once you’ve downloaded more than a handful of Chrome OS apps. Often it is not easy to find the one you want.
During a week with the ChromeBook I used many tabs but never had more than one window open.
Android has improved
If Chrome OS isn’t polished, hope is Android-shaped. The last time I worked with an Android device, less than a year ago, it still had the same unfinished feel I found in Chrome OS.
At the time Android was clearly a generation behind iOS or Windows Phone. Since then it has sharpened up. The Sony Xperia Z1 I used during my Google technology week uses Android 4.2, there have been two upgrades since and Android is now on 4.4.
While Android 4.2 on the Xperia Z1 is still a less complete experience that iOS 7 or Windows Phone 8, the gap has closed considerably. In particular, there’s now tighter integration between Android and Google’s apps – and, by extension, with Google’s cloud services.
If you own an Android phone and commit to Google’s technology – it doesn’t have to be an exclusive relationship – you’ll find plenty to like and lots to make you productive.
When I started the Google-only week, I knew I’d get my work done. Yet, I worried there might be a productivity hit, or that I would bump against frustrations. There has been less of that than I expected.