David Ruddock on the State of Chrome OS

David Ruddock, writing for Android Police, “Chrome OS Has Stalled Out”:

Those apps are also a crutch that Chrome leans on to this day. Chrome OS doesn’t have a robust photo editor? Don’t worry, you can download an app! Chrome doesn’t have native integration with cloud file services like Box, Dropbox, or OneDrive? Just download the app! Chrome doesn’t have Microsoft Office? App! But this “solution” has basically become an insult to Chrome’s users, forcing them to live inside a half-baked Android environment using apps that were almost exclusively designed for 6” touchscreens, and which exist in a containerized state that effectively firewalls them from much of the Chrome operating system. As a result, file handling is a nightmare, with only a very limited number of folders accessible to those applications, and the task of finding them from inside those apps a labyrinthine exercise no one should have to endure in 2019. This isn’t a tenable state of affairs — it’s computing barbarism as far as I’m concerned. And yet, I’ve seen zero evidence that the Chrome team intends to fix it. It’s just how it is. […]

I say this even as one of the few people who can do 95% of my job on a Chromebook: that 5%, when you really, really need it, is more than enough reason to avoid a platform entirely. And for many others, it’s much more than 5%: it’s their entire workflow.

Ruddock’s piece is that rare combination: both provocative and thoughtful. However much we Mac users are complaining about the early state of Catalyst apps, Android apps running on Chrome OS sound far, far worse. “Computing barbarism” is pretty harsh.

Remember the whole crackpot plan to merge Android and Chrome? That was the plan as stated by no less an authority than Sergey Brin — back in 2009. Made no sense then, makes no sense now. Or, I should say, it makes no sense if you consider what Chrome and Android really are. Brin was never a product person. It’s telling, to me, that as far as I can tell Andy Rubin — who is most certainly a product person — never talked up this proposed merger. It’s a bad idea for Android and a bad idea for Chrome OS.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the original Mac in 1984 is that it shipped without any sort of character-based/terminal mode. That meant not only that it wasn’t compatible with the then-wildly-popular Apple II, it wasn’t compatible with the fundamental way most developers and users thought about a “computer”. I firmly believe that in an alternate universe where the 1984 Mac shipped with an Apple II-compatible text mode — even just a single app akin to MacOS’s Terminal app today — the product would’ve failed. Developers are lazy — a compliment! — and they would’ve been drawn to that crutch. And users, familiar with the Apple II and other command-line PCs of the era, might’ve been more comfortable at first too. With no such crutch, developers and users alike had to get on board with proper GUI Mac apps.

That, to me, sounds like how the whole “Android apps on Chrome OS” thing has turned out. The existence of the “Chrome OS can run Android apps” crutch has stunted Google’s motivation to push the platform forward to solve the remaining tasks that the platform isn’t suited for in ways that are truly native to Chrome.