Google updates struggling Chrome OS
Update adds full Drive integration, a new app list and wallpaper support
Google has issued an update to Chrome OS, the cloud-based software that runs on the company's Chromebook and Chromebox devices - but are the changes too late to win sales?
Updating devices to the latest stable release brings several interface enhancements, including a new apps list, full Google Drive integration, and the ability to add custom wallpapers.
Rather than a full-screen grid of available apps, the new app list is a small box that pops up without obscuring running applications. It's ordered into pages of 16 apps each, and has its own in-built omnibar that searches apps and online, with search results mixed together. You can also pin apps directly to the Launcher - what Google calls the taskbar.
Google has added the ability to save files directly to Drive, rather than saving them locally and uploading them, making it much easier to work on files between devices. Saving a file opens a dialog window with a choice of tabs; choose Google Drive and it gives a neatly ordered folder and file tree that's arguably cleaner than the Drive web interface.
Choosing a desktop wallpaper beyond bundled samples is finally possible, and Google has moved the choice away from the browser and into the same file and folder dialog window.
With a more user-friendly UI and vital offline apps added in the last big release in April, Chrome OS is gradually becoming a viable affordable alternative to a Windows laptop.
Whether that will translate into sales remains to be seen. By January, Google had placed 27,000 Chromebooks in schools in 41 US states, and in June it announced more than 500 school districts in the US and Europe were actively using the devices. Figures haven't been released for consumer sales, but are thought to be small.
In June, Google pushed its Chromebooks into 100 Best Buy stores in the US and an unspecified number of Dixons outlets in the UK. No sales figures have been released, but a study by online advertising firm Chitika of web traffic for a week in June put Chrome OS's share at a negligible 0.0119% - lower even than those using the Sony PlayStation 3 as an unlikely web browser.