Upgrade to the Chrome OS developer channel for some big improvements
So, I finally took the plunge and changed the channel on my new Samsung Chromebook. For you non-Chromies out there, this simply means that I went into my Chromebook settings, and switched from stable to dev – if you’re currently using the Chrome browser on Windows or Mac, what I did is the same as switching to the beta or dev channels there (although there’s not currently a canary channel for Chrome OS).
One much-needed improvement in the dev channel is the ability to rearrange apps in your app drawer. Previously, the apps were in a random, inconvenient order that could not be changed, making it very annoying to swipe left and right, trying to find the specific thing you’re looking for. While the ability to rearrange your apps might seem insignificant to some, it definitely goes a long way in making this cloud-based OS feel like a real desktop replacement. It also makes managing large numbers of apps a heck of a lot easier. (I ended up placing all of my most used web apps in the first tab, and then arranged the rest of them in alphabetical order in the second and third tabs.)
Another improvement I’ve noticed is that the indicator along the bottom of the screen in the launcher that shows you what windows you currently have open, as well as which one is currently in use, has also improved. Previous versions of this indicator looked almost like a bright LCD bulb bleeding light from a defective, poorly-glued screen – those of you who have experienced bad light bleed on the HTC EVO 3D or ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime should know exactly what I’m talking about. In fact, I almost thought my Chromebook was defective before I realized what it really was. Now, however, they obviously look like they belong there – there’s no mistaking them. (The picture below doesn’t really show them very well, but they’re still there.)
Finally, I’ve noticed a slightly longer battery life in the dev channel, along with much fewer random page refreshes. Some reviews of the Chromebook have mentioned that if you routinely have more than 8 or 9 tabs open at once, your machine will start to slow down, and pages will begin to refresh, presumably from a lack of RAM. I did notice that sometimes on the stable and beta channels both, especially when doing resource-intensive work like watching HD videos or editing large photos, but the dev channel performs much better in this regard. In fact, overall smoothness throughout the entire OS seems to have been improved, as well.
Google, of course, warns that the dev channel might not run as smoothly as the stable or beta channels, but so far, in my experience, it’s made my Chromebook a thousand times better. The only bug I’ve noticed is that the web cam comes on for a split second when entering the settings menu; Google is aware of the problem, however, and is currently working on a fix.
Of course, the dev channel might not stay like this for long; the next update might bring constant crashes, for all I know. But for now I’m very happy I made the switch, and I highly recommend you do the same. Best of all, if you ever have second thoughts, it’s really easy to change channels again: simply go to your settings, select “Help,” and change the channel back under “More info…” You’ll have to wait for the stable or beta channel to catch up to the dev channel you’re currently on, but at least you won’t get any more buggy updates. (You can also restore your system faster using a USB stick to complete the recovery, but that’s a bit more complicated, and the subject of a future article.)