In order to understand how well ChromeOS will be accepted by the general user community, I think you first must classify users into several categories. The ones that come to mind are:
- Business Users & Owners
- Home & Casual Users
Granted these categories are broad and generic, so let's look a bit closer at each one. All users want to access the Internet so I don't feel there is any reason to discuss this further, because ChromeOS is a browser-based operating system. It is a given that it will excel at surfing the 'Net.
Business and casual, home users typically want to manage documents and communicate. Business owners require additional capabilities, and the resources they require depends on whether their domains are hosted in the Cloud, or in a traditional manner.
ASTL Systems is a good example of a corporation entirely hosted in the Cloud. All IT activities can be managed online, including user management, email, domain services and the like. Obviously the management of PCs which ASTL employees use to access the domain, and connectivity to the Internet, must be taken into consideration with respect to their IT requirements. In other words, the physical infrastructure of the network(s) still has to be administered.
Management of documents ranges from simple word processing, spreadsheets, drawings and presentations to more complex ones. The complexity of the documents becomes a factor in determining whether the user is able to utilize available Cloud-based apps, or must continue to rely upon PC-based apps hosted in the Windows, Linux or Mac environments.
Google Docs provides apps for basic document management; however, the capabilities of these apps are far less than their Windows or other O/S based counterparts. Spreadsheets to calculate a budget, or test results, are easily created with the spreadsheet feature of Google Docs. However, if you want a more complex spreadsheet with, say, multiple sheets that feed data to each other, you'll have to use Excel.
The word processing capability of Google Docs allows users to create basic documents with a handful of fonts and styles, tables, and a table of contents. Images may be embedded and captioned. Microsoft Word has evolved over its life to represent more of a typesetting app than a word processing app, so users accustomed to the more elaborate Word features will be disappointed with what they find in Google Docs.
That said, I started converting my personal and client documents to Google Docs in late 2009, and now I am almost entirely performing my word processing in the Cloud. I've learned to put more emphasis on content instead of appearance.
Recently, Google added a drawing app to the Docs suite, and I find it to be quite useful and user-friendly when compared for example to Visio. I've easily created block diagrams of business functions, flowcharts, and diagrams using this tool. Again, it is not Visio and I doubt it ever will be.
So the question arises "Are these Google Docs apps enough?" for the typical business user. Only the user can answer this based on her day to day activities. As for myself, I gladly exchanged some of the bells and whistles I got with Microsoft products for the benefits I get working in Cloud apps.
For example, Google Docs saves my work constantly, so if the PC crashes (thanks to Windows typical behavior) or the power goes out, I stand to lose maybe a minute's work when I resume. I can resume anywhere there's a browser and Internet connection. I can start to work on a document at the office, catch a cab to the airport, and resume work while waiting to board my flight on my laptop, connected via wireless Internet in the terminal.
I don't normally work while in flight, but if I wanted to, I'd have to download a copy of the document(s) to my laptop, and this illustrates an obstacle to overcome. The Google Docs download formats include ODT, RTF, PDF, text or Word. So, if I wanted to continue editing the document during my flight, I'd have to use Microsoft Word or another word processing app in the laptop. Will Google address this with ChromeOS - offline work? From what I've seen in other Google products such as gmail, I suspect they will.
Many users need to be able to manipulate pictures and images using tools such as Photoshop. Currently, there is no Google or Cloud app to do this, although I found an interesting tool that has some basic resizing and cropping features: http://online.batchphoto.com/
Gamers are out of luck if they play the sorts of games that my son plays on his Windows 7 PC, which require a lot of computing resources that a mobile platform such as the much-rumored Chrome-base netbook would provide. This is also true perhaps of online games where the player accesses the game through a browser. We'll just have to wait and see how Google approaches the gamer market.
I'm looking forward to getting one of the first Chrome netbooks and putting it through its' paces. Because I do very little offline work, it appeals to me in several ways. I absolutely hate Windows and can't wait to see its' demise. I'm tired of having to deal with some problem EVERY TIME I boot up one of my Windows laptops. It's either the wireless won't connect (although my Android phone connected to the same network in 20 seconds), the printer isn't printing my documents, some app is acting strangely or not responding at all, the mouse won't move to one of the displays, a USB device is not responding ... OMG the list goes on!
In our increasingly complicated and interconnected world, I am constantly trying to simplify my life, and eliminating irritating problems that are the fault of Windows based computer ranks top of my list. A Chrome netbook with a GSM broadband modem installed will allow me to work anywhere there's WiFi or cellular service.
A strong relationship between the netbook and the Android phone will only increase my productivity.
"The promise of Chrome and Chrome OS is that the devices that you give to your employees will have a 2-second boot time, will be completely disposable and the price will be incredibly low.
"Chrome OS computers will no longer be personal because it doesn't matter which computer you use. After logging to your Google account, Chrome OS will retrieve your bookmarks, themes, settings, web history from Google's servers. Your data is stored in a central location and you can access it from all your devices." -- Eric Schmidt, Google CEO