Google’s Chrome OS gets a lot of things right, and the platform has evolved considerably over the years. Not only does it offer an always up-to-date version of the Chrome browser, but there are also Android apps, stylus input, and even Linux support on some devices. However, Chrome OS is far from perfect. You have to make compromises if you choose to live with a Chromebook, but you shouldn’t have to make quite this many. Here are the top five things Google should fix.
Most Chromebooks are light on local storage, so you might want to connect to a network resource like your desktop PC or a NAS box. Good luck with that, though. Chrome OS has no built-in mechanism to access network resources. You need to download an extension that adds network targets to your file manager, but you’re not out of the woods yet.
The Google Network File Share extension (see above) has a two-star rating out of five because it’s in a ridiculous state of disrepair. Mounting an SMB share is confusing because some devices just won’t work — for example, Synology NAS boxes. You can never tell if the mount failed because you have the path syntax wrong or the extension is just buggy. There are some signs that Google will build this functionality into Chrome OS as a native capability, but it can take a long time for Chromium code to reach a final release.
Better window management
In Chrome OS, you have the option of leaving your windows floating or you can split-screen with one on each side. And that’s it. This is the extent of window management, and it really needs to get better. Windows makes it easy to split-screen two apps, even offering you thumbnails of recent apps to throw up on the other half when you use keyboard shortcuts. You can also drag windows to the edges of your screen to split them or put a window in just a quarter of the screen. Chrome OS only does a few of these things, and the keyboard shortcuts are bad.
Chrome’s window management woes are even worse in tablet mode. The OS forces all your apps into full-screen mode. If you’re using Android apps, you’re just right back where you started with Android tablets — you have all these phone apps stretched to ridiculous proportions on a larger display. Gross.
Google doesn’t include even rudimentary photo editing tools in Chrome OS. The closest thing you have are the basic cropping and filters on the Google Photos website. Even if you go looking for third-party tools, the pickings are very, very slim.
There’s Pixlr, which is a Flash-based online Photoshop clone that is both painfully slow and cluttered with ads. Then there’s Polarr, which is a competent Lightroom clone that runs on your device. It doesn’t have much beyond filters and resizing. If you want something that can handle a few layers and maybe even some selections, you’re out of luck. Google would do well to create some sort of basic Photoshop clone for Chrome.
A real file directory
If you’re using Android or Linux apps on your Chromebook, things get even more complicated. These systems have their own file directories, so you need to move files around for any other platform to see them. You can’t even access files for Android or Linux in the file manager without workarounds like changing experimental flags (Android, see above) and mounting temporary containers (Linux). Google should just get used to the fact that people still need local files.
Usable on-screen text input
Google is working with its partners to launch Chrome OS on tablets, and many Chromebooks have convertible tablet modes. That’s great, but on-screen test input on Chrome OS is a nightmare right now.
The Chrome OS keyboard looks like Gboard on Android, but don’t be fooled. It’s not as smart, accurate, or feature-rich as Gboard. Chrome OS doesn’t currently support replacing that keyboard, either. If you’ve got a stylus, you can write on the screen, but it’s not much better. Google is supposedly working on ways to add alternative keyboards to Chrome OS, and it can’t come soon enough.