Chromebooks are a divisive topic. For the casual web enthusiast with a thirst to stay updated on social media, play games, email and download apps; Chromebooks are probably better than a laptop. Others argue that they’re completely useless without a full-fledged offline operating system that allows them to run the programs they’re used to.
There really isn’t a right answer, and Chromebooks certainly aren’t for everyone. But Google has excelled at finding a niche and delivering a powerful solution aimed to serve them. In fact, Chromebooks now outsell Windows laptops. Whether you think Chromebooks are useful or useless, you can’t argue that the Chromebook has staying power.
Here are 5 things you should know about Chromebooks if you’re thinking of buying one.
It’s Not a Watered-Down Version of Another Operating System (or an Expanded Chrome Browser)
Since Chrome OS is rather new (in comparison to OS X and Windows), there are a lot of misconceptions about what it actually is. Some argue Chrome OS is a watered-down version of a desktop operating system, others think Google essentially expanded on the Chrome browser and called it an operating system.
In fact, Chrome OS is based on the Linux kernel and designed by Google to provide a web-first experience as opposed to the traditional laptop. By offering a more concise version of a laptop or desktop operating system, Google can minimize the hardware demand, and thus offer the Chromebook at a more consumer-friendly price since web browsing, email and apps make up a bulk of what most consumers use their computers for anyway.
While it’s certainly not a full-fledged powerhouse that can do anything a laptop running Windows or OS X can, it’s not exactly a tablet or mobile operating system either. Chrome OS is something new entirely and it finds itself firmly ingrained between the two. This offers its own set of benefits (a much lower price tag, for example) and frustrations, but overall it’s something that certainly deserves your attention.
You Can Do Just About Any Basic Task You Would Do on a PC Running Windows or OS X
Photo and video editing, documents, spreadsheets, games, web browsing, email; you name it and Chrome OS can handle it (through apps of its own). However, if you’re switching from Windows or OS X, that’s not to say that you can continue with business as usual. The switch to Chrome OS could require minor-to-significant changes in user behavior in order to complete the same tasks.
For example, if you use desktop-specific apps, such as Numbers, Keynote, PowerPoint, or Excel, you’ll now have to use Google Docs or Microsoft Office Web Apps. Even so, we have tips to make your life easier through the transition.
If you’re an Excel power-user, you may be disappointed to find out that even though Chrome has the Microsoft Office suite, they operate as web apps on Chrome OS and they don’t allow you to use them offline. Fortunately, Google Sheets handle Excel spreadsheets pretty well.
Now, on the other side of the spectrum, there are programs that you just have to get used to living without. The Adobe Suite, for example, isn’t available on Chrome OS. Adobe is working on a beta version of Photoshop for Chromebooks – called Photoshop Streaming – but according to Adobe, it isn’t available for everyone just yet.
“Project Photoshop Streaming enables selected participants to access Photoshop on Chromebooks.”
That said, Chromebook’s aren’t designed for those that require professional-grade applications like Photoshop and Illustrator (or Pro Tools, Final Cut, and other pro-level software). For most of us, the Chromebook and Chrome OS offer plenty of apps and programs to meet basic to intermediate needs, and the alternatives (such as Pixlr and Sketchup) are gaining ground on their premium counterparts (Photoshop and AutoCAD).
And if you’re not satisfied with Chrome OS, you can always install Linux on your Chromebook.
It Isn’t Just an Online PC
Chromebooks are designed to work with an always-on connection. There’s no doubt that they’re infinitely more convenient when connected, but many are surprised that – for the most part – they work just fine offline.
It can be a bit hit-or-miss, but many of the apps (such as Gmail and Google Docs) you use every day allow you to work offline and then sync the data to the cloud once your connection is restored. Most of the apps with offline functionality come this way by default, while others require you to tweak settings or install additional extensions from the Chrome store.
That’s not to say all apps allow you to work offline, but Google Docs, editing images/video, and playing most games – which is probably what makes up the bulk of your offline use anyway – can all be accomplished while offline.
Chromebooks can also read data from USB flash drives in addition to its internal storage. So you also have the option of storing videos, music, and files locally for offline access.
Security is Top-Notch, But They Aren’t Completely Immune to Malware
For all the debates about whether OS X or Windows is the more secure operating system, the Chromebook is routinely overlooked, and it’s actually the most secure of all of them. Not only is it supremely secure, the Chromebook operates securely without the need for much – if any – input from the user.
Unlike an antivirus suite, which notifies you of potential problems, or scans your system at specified intervals, Chrome OS runs in a stateless configuration, which means that none of the software is saved locally. Instead, your Chromebook saves programs on the cloud, which it syncs at regular intervals.
In addition, it features automatic backups and updates, sandboxed browsing, strong data encryption, and verified boot processes. If things do go wrong, Chrome OS offers a Powerclean option which restores the Chromebook to factory setting. If that happens, hardly any data will be lost since they’re stored in the cloud and retrieved as soon as you log in to your Google account.
It’s not completely bulletproof (in a security sense), but it’s close.
Chromebooks Require Little-to-No Maintenance
Mac users tout Apple products as low maintenance machines while Windows users are constantly griping about installing updates. Chromebooks are better than both of them.
Since Chrome OS thrives on an always-on web connection, the operating system is constantly updated in the background without you typically ever knowing about it. Virus scans, registry errors, drive maintenance and other common Windows tasks are completely unnecessary due to the stateless configuration of Chrome OS.
Maintenance on the Chromebook is virtually nonexistent. The machine starts up in a flash, runs smoothly, and syncs and updates from the cloud all without much input from you, the user. So Chromebooks are perfect for users who are not particularly savvy in performing operating system updates.
Do you own a Chromebook? What do you love or hate about it? What took you the longest to get used to when switching from Windows or OS X? If you don’t own one, what’s the one thing that’s keeping you from buying one?
Image Credit: Pavel Ignatov via Shutterstock.com