The Pros and Cons of Web-Based Operating Systems - Page 2

By Ronald Pacchiano
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The Downside of Web-Based OS

While a browser-based OS offers plenty of benefits, it's also hampered by severe limitations. Most notably: everything is stored in the cloud. If you're working from the office or your home, that's generally not a concern. However if you travel, accessing a reliable and fast broadband connection can be tricky. Many areas have dead zones, limited coverage and inconsistent throughput rates.

Complicating matters further, many wireless ISPs impose a data cap on their mobile broadband service. A computer that requires constant online access to transmit data or stream music and video could hit those caps very quickly. It wouldn’t be as troubling if you could work offline, but the majority of apps currently available for Chrome OS won’t work without a broadband connection. This makes working while traveling difficult or, in some cases, impossible. 

Other issues include the lack of proper VPN support, limited file management and some weird browser compatibility issues that prevent some websites from loading or functioning correctly. And, while the Chrome App Store offers a wide variety of apps, it's still rather limited. As a result, finding what you need can sometimes prove difficult.

Regardless of these shortcomings, the Chrome OS offers plenty of value. The best way to decide whether a browser-based OS is appropriate -- for all or part of your organization -- is to try one. Unfortunately, you can't download Google’s Chrome OS directly. However these alternatives will introduce you to the browser-based OS concept first hand.

Alternatives to Chrome OS

The Web-based OS that comes closest to Chrome OS is called, ironically enough, Chrome OS Linux. This version provides a lightweight Linux distribution, compatible with almost any x86 PC or notebook equipped with at least 256MB of RAM and a 1GB HD. It's highly representative of the experience you get working on a Chromebook.

Chrome OS Linux is available as a live CD; you can test it out on any computer without actually installing it. And, since Chrome OS Linux provides you with almost everything you get from a Chromebook, you can continue to use it on all of your existing systems without paying Google $28 a month for its hardware.

Other Web-based OSes offer similar functionality. Two of the most popular are Joli OS from Jolicloud and Splashtop OS. Unlike a Chromebook, however, both of these products are designed to be used as a supplement to Windows, not a replacement. You simply select which OS you’d like to use when the PC starts.

Installing either product is risk-free as only the installer runs in Windows, and it won’t affect your settings, files, applications or personal data. There could be some compatibility issues -- we discovered that Joli OS worked fine on our Dell Latitude D620, but not on our Dell Latitude e5400. Seems it didn’t support that particular network adapter.

Splashtop also had issues as it only officially supports about a dozen HP systems. However it worked fine on our Dell Latitude D620. Bottom line, you have nothing to lose by installing it on your system. It will either work or it won’t.

The last alternative is called Presto. Unlike the other OSes mentioned here, Presto can work offline. While we don't consider Presto a replacement for Windows the way Chrome OS is, it provides many of the same benefits.

In our test, we started Presto and got on the Web in less than 13 seconds. You can send email, IM clients and browse the Web via Firefox. And unlike Chrome OS, you can edit Office documents, listen to music or even watch videos offline. Presto also differs in that it's not a free application. You can try it free for 7 days, after that it will cost you $19.95.

Even though none of the operating systems we discussed here are as feature rich or flexible as your typical Windows PC, they each offer something of value. We recommend that you give each a closer look.

Ronald V. Pacchiano is a systems integrator and technology specialist with expertise in Windows server management, desktop support and network administration. He is also an accomplished technology journalist and a contributing writer for Small Business Computing.

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This article was originally published on August 30, 2011
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