If you're looking for a new laptop in the market, you might be considering a Chromebook. You may have noticed that Chromebooks don't run Windows or macOS, but they have their own operating system called Chrome OS. Would you like a more conventional operating system for your laptop?
What is Chrome OS?
Chrome OS is an operating system developed by Google for the Chromebook line of laptops. These laptops are primarily designed for use with web applications. In the early versions, they were pretty much just a web browser that took over the entire machine.
The name comes from the Google Chrome browser, which is currently the most widely used web browser in the world.
Chrome OS overview
Chrome OS was designed for its simplicity and security. Google decided early on that Chromebook manufacturers would use SSDs instead of traditional hard drives because of their higher speed and lower power consumption. The lower capacities of SSDs in the early 2010s weren't a disadvantage, as Chrome OS is more about web usage than local storage.
Chrome OS is a heavily modified version of the Gentoo Linux distribution. Like its parent browser, Chrome OS has an open source version called Chromium OS, which is where most of the development takes place, much like the relationship between the Chrome and Chromium browsers.
Google's use cases for Chromebooks, as per the original design document, serve as a secondary computer for quick tasks like email or web searches.
As a result, Chrome OS is built for speed and security. The Chromebook firmware is lightweight and leaves out some hardware features that you might find in a traditional PC BIOS. The operating system is also equipped with a sandbox so that an attacker cannot take control of the entire computer. The system checks the integrity of the operating system at startup and repairs itself if changes to the system files are detected.
The Chrome OS firmware detects at startup whether the operating system is missing or damaged and prompts the user to start the recovery process.
Due to Chrome OS's focus on security, operating system updates are released frequently, and the operating system version lifespan is measured in weeks. The version numbers roughly keep up with the Chrome browser on other operating systems. Google guarantees Chrome OS updates for a period of time in accordance with Google's Automatic Updates Policy. Devices introduced in 2020 and later are guaranteed for at least eight years.
Chromebooks are attractive to education, especially K-12 education in the US, because they can be inexpensively, securely, and centrally managed through a web-based administrator console. Some companies also use them for similar reasons.
Chrome OS devices
Chrome OS runs on Chromebook laptops. Although Google does offer some of its own premium devices such as the Pixelbook range, the vast majority of Chromebooks are sold by other computer manufacturers such as Asus, Acer, and Dell, which Google showcases on its official Chromebook website.
Chromebook form factors include traditional laptops as well as detachable / convertible laptops and tablets.
Chromebooks are primarily designed to be used on the internet and don't have a lot of local storage. However, you can use USB drives, SD cards, and cloud storage if you need more capacity.
The main attraction of Chrome OS is its base in the cloud, which effectively makes the machine available. If you spill a cup of coffee on your Chromebook, all you have to do is go to your local store, buy a new one, and then sign up and you can pick up right where you left off.
Chrome OS and Android
Google may have recognized the limitations of using web apps only and added support for Android apps to Chrome OS, including the Google Play Store. You can download almost any app from the Play Store and use it just like you would on an Android device.
Since Chrome OS has a faster update schedule than Android and can run Android apps, Chrome OS tablets or convertibles are a good alternative to Android tablets.
Chrome OS and Linux
One of the most exciting recent developments in the Linux world is Crostini, a containerized Linux development environment that runs on Chrome OS. It is similar to the Windows subsystem for Linux on Windows 10.
While Chrome OS itself is based on Linux, Chrome OS's focus on security made it difficult to access the underlying system. If a user can become root on a Chromebook, so can an attacker.
Previously, the only way to have a full Linux system running on Chrome OS was to put it in developer mode and install Crouton.
An obvious pun on Crouton, Crostini retains the security Chrome OS is known for while providing a powerful Linux development environment. It's still in beta right now, but it's incredibly useful. It's even possible to install graphical applications, which Microsoft promises with WSL and currently only works with workarounds.
Better still, installation takes just a few clicks. Crostini installs Debian 10 by default, but you can install other distributions as well. While it is aimed at developers who are already familiar with Linux, it would be a good introduction to the command line for the uninitiated.
In the decade since the Chromebook was officially launched, the platform has taken the laptop market by storm. In 2020, Chromebooks sold Mac laptops and reduced Windows' market share. It seems that the mythical "Year of the Linux Desktop" could come about by hiding the Linux origins of Chrome OS.
As mentioned earlier, Chromebooks are very popular in schools. In 2019, Chromebooks accounted for 60 percent of educational laptop sales.
Microsoft has responded to the popularity of Chromebooks by introducing its own stripped-down Windows 10X operating system for low-end computers. Only time will tell if Microsoft manages to hold off the Chrome OS onslaught, but Linux partisans were sure that if Microsoft ends support for XP, users would switch to Linux instead of Windows 8.
Is Chrome OS Right For You?
Whether Chrome OS is right for you depends on what you want to do with your computer. If you work primarily with web applications like Google Docs, Office 365, and Gmail, a Chromebook is a viable option. Even if it's not your primary platform, a Chromebook comes in handy for these quick web chores.
If you enjoy tinkering with Linux but don't want to battle your system over drivers, you can install Crostini on your Chromebook. However, if you want to play hardcore PC games, you might want to wait, even though game streaming services like Google Stadia, Shadow by Blade, and Nvidia GeForce Now support Chrome OS, so this may change in the future.
If you do a lot of video or image editing, a PC or Mac will serve you better right now. Even so, Chromebooks are very useful as they can run Android and even Linux apps. They have come a long way when Chromebooks could only effectively use web apps.
Once you've decided to buy a Chromebook, read on for some tips on how to get the most of it.
21 Essential Tips for First Time Chromebook Users
New to Chromebook? Adjusting can take a while. Here are the first things you need to know about your Chromebook.
About the author
(10 articles published)
David is a freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest but originally from the Bay Area. He has been a technology enthusiast since childhood. David's interests include reading, watching quality TV shows and movies, retro games, and collecting records.
By David Delony
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