4 new features in Chrome OS that improve the desktop experience

Samsung's Series 5 550 Chromebook

An update to Google’s Chrome OS developer channel adds several new features that bring it even closer to traditional desktop platforms. Google announced the update on Monday, but as usual, didn’t supply a list of new features. Google evangelist François Beaufort examined the code changes and found out what’s new, posting the details on his Google+ page. Here are some of the more interesting ones:

1. See all open tabs / windows with one button click

This is just like the Mission Control feature in Mac OS X, showing all open windows on the screen at once. That’s helpful since a Chrome OS user could have both multiple tabs open at once in the browser as well a a number of standalone Chrome apps. Sure, you could cycle through your open windows using the ctrl + tab key combo, but it’s nice to see everything all at once.

ChromeOS overview mode

To enable the feature on the Dev channel, users must activate the experimental Overview Mode by typing chrome://flags/#enable-overview-mode in the Chrome URL bar and enabling the feature. Once it’s turned on, tapping the F5 key will show all open windows.

2. Touch-based drag-and-drop

This feature is currently limited to Google’s Chromebook Pixel since it’s the only Chrome OS device with a touchscreen. As a Pixel owner, I can assure you it’s a welcome addition. Here’s how the feature looks in action with Beaufort sharing a demonstration of dragging and dropping images into an email:

3. Easier switching between the Dev, Beta and Stable channels

It’s actually easy to switch to Dev or Beta from the Chrome OS Stable channel now; the hard part is switching back. Prior to this update, you’d have to either wait for the Stable version to have the same version number as Dev or Beta to automatically switch back: A waiting period that could take weeks. Or you could create a Stable image recovery and install it, but that requires removable media and some extra steps.

Now, users can bypass the image recovery process because changing back to Beta or Stable includes a “powerwash” that installs the version of Chrome OS you want.

ChromeOS channel change

4. Better integration with Google Drive

Files in the cloud have long appeared in the Files app in Chrome OS as if they were local. So you can easily manipulate or use those files just as if they were on a Chromebook’s flash storage. With the latest Dev channel update, these files can now be shared in the cloud with others, just like they can in the Google Drive web client. The user interface to share files in Chrome OS is the same as the web version as well.
Chrome OS still may not be the desktop platform for everyone — it may never be that — but clearly, it keeps improving and gaining more traditional computing features that could increase the appeal of a Chromebook or Chromebox.

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