Are you new to Chrome OS and Chromebooks? If yes, this is the best place to start; a comprehensive guide to everything Chrome OS and Chromebooks. I am sure existing users will also learn a thing or two from this resource. So read on!
I have a Windows PC at home. I switch it on once a week, sometimes once in two weeks. Do I hate Windows? No. It is just that most of the time, all I need is a browser and internet, and not the whole computer. That browser-computer is my Chromebook. It runs Chrome OS, which is Chrome browser, and a lot more.
Chrome OS is the second most popular operating system created and managed by Google. (First place of course, goes to Android) This is a comprehensive guide to Chrome OS, desktop computing envisioned by Google.
If you are new to Chrome OS and want to know about this platform, this will be a very good resource for you. If you are already a Chrome OS user or Chromebook fan, this is the page that you want to send to your friends who ask you questions about your funny new “computer that cannot run Photoshop”
What Is Chrome OS?
Imagine yourself on a trip. Will you pack everything that you need for your trip into one big bag? Are you ready to open your big suitcase every time you need to show your ID card to the security personnel at the airport or when you have to write something on a notebook? Most of us (if not all of us) carry a small travel bag with us where we keep things that we need quite often during the trip.
Do you need a full computer all the time? The complex operating system, all those applications and services that run in the background every time you open the computer just to send an email?
If you are picking up your laptop to send an email or just to login in to Facebook, or watch a movie or play some music, do you need all those confusions or just a simple computer with a powerful web browser on it? Something that starts up fast and helps you go online within seconds?
Chrome OS is for those moments. If your computing needs consists of lots of such moments, Chrome OS and Chromebooks will make a lot of sense to you.
For the Future
Chrome OS is built for the future. Most of our computing these days happens on the browser, with the help of cloud connected services and websites. Google built Chrome OS to be the operating system of the cloud-centric lifestyle.
Chrome OS is an operating system based on the Linux kernel and designed by Google to work with web applications and installed applications. Initially, Chrome OS was almost a pure web thin client operating system.
Chrome OS simplifies the operating system by removing a lot of things that you do not use often. It puts the most important part of computing these days, the browser, in front and center. Along with that, it also gives you basic utilities like a media player and and a Files app that can open photos and videos (and do some basic photos edits!).
Why Chrome OS?
Tell me this, if you do not have internet connection, how long will you use your computer, apart from watching movies or listening to some music?
Without a working internet connection and a browser, computers today are merely entertainment devices for a good percentage of people. I am not saying that web browsing is the only thing that people use their computers for, but for many, a working internet connection and a good browser will suffice for most of their computing needs.
For another large group, outside their working hours, a browser and internet is all they need on their “second computer”. When I am at work, I use a combination of web applications and native desktop applications like Microsoft Excel and image editing software etc.
When I reach home, I spend most of time on my browser, reading news, writing this blog, helping users on Google forums and using social networks and instant messaging. I use YouTube as my primary music app, Trello to manage my blog and other projects. Wunderlist maintains my family shopping list. Pocket has all the content that I saved for serious reading, Feedly has all my news sources. The list goes on and on.
Yes, I just need a good browser on a computer that I use at home. The so called “second computer”. Chromebooks make a good second computer for me. I have a Windows PC at home, but it stays idle most of the time after I started using Chromebooks.
One of the first videos Google released to explain the Chrome OS concept will help you understand why Google built Chrome OS.
History of Chrome OS
- Monday, September 1, 2008 Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped publishes the Google Chrome Comic Book before Google’s original planned released date, which was September 3, 2008.
- Google Published the original version of the comic book soon after the leak.
- September 2, 2008, Google officially released Google Chrome, as Beta for Windows XP platform, in 43 languages.
- Tuesday, September 02, 2008, Google released Chromium, the open source version of Chrome.
- Tuesday, March 17, 2009 the official Chrome Blog was launched.
- Wednesday, March 18, 2009 Google Launches Chrome Experiments
- Thursday, June 04, 2009 early development channel was released for Chrome on OSX and Linux.
- Tuesday, July 07, 2009, Google announces Chrome OS.
- Wednesday, May 19, 2010 Chrome Web Store announced.
- December 7, 2010, Google launched the CR48 Chromebook pilot program.
Additional reading: The secret origins of Google’s Chrome OS.
Updating Chrome OS
Chrome OS updates automatically. Every time you start your Chromebook, it checks for updates. If there is an updated, it downloads and install them when you restart the Chromebook. Thus, your Chromebook has always the latest version of Chrome OS, not even a mouse click needed!
Chrome OS Apps
Chrome OS is built for Cloud and the Internet. Hence most of the Chrome OS apps require an internet connection to be fully functional. There are plenty of apps that will not work if you are offline too. However, there are many apps that are built to work even when you are offline.
Note: If you are a developer interested in creating Packaged Apps, read more about the process here.
Apps for Chrome OS can be downloaded from the Chrome Web Store. There are apps that work on Windows and Chrome OS, and there are some that work only on Chrome OS. Check for the compatibility button on the top right corner.
Google has an official list of suggested Chrome OS apps, categorized for everyday use, school and work. You can find the list here.
Chromium OS and Chrome OS, What Is The Difference?
Here is the official version from one of the early Google announcements:
Google Chrome OS is to Chromium OS what Google Chrome browser is to Chromium. Chromium OS is the open source project, used primarily by developers, with code that is available for anyone to checkout, modify and build their own version with. Meanwhile, Google Chrome OS is the Google product that OEMs will ship on Chromebooks next year. Therefore, dear developers who have built and posted Chromium OS binaries, you’re awesome and we appreciate what you are doing, however we have to ask you to call the binaries you’ve put up for download “Chromium OS” and not “Google Chrome OS”.
Here’s a video, one of my favorites:
Can I Download Chrome OS?
No, Chrome OS is not available for download as an ISO file or in any other way. It comes pre-installed on Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. Google manages the software updates directly on all Chromebook models.
And that means you cannot download and install Chrome OS on your PC!
You can however download Chromium OS code and build Chromium OS images and it will look and work almost like Chrome OS. Find more details about the Chromium OS project here.
CloudReady – Turn Your Old Laptops Into Chromebooks
Chrome OS is based on its open source cousin Chromium OS which is available for anyone to download and build their own version of Chrome OS. Neverware, a company based in New York created their own version of Chromium OS named CloudReady which you can download and install on any supported laptop or computer.
Chromium OS (like Chrome OS) does not require much computing power. Old computers can run it smoothly. The OS comes in an easy to install USB drive. CloudReady provides automatic updates similar to Chrome OS and the ability to enroll devices in the Chrome Admin Console. Schools can opt for an annual license of $25 per machine or a lifetime license of $59 per machine, which includes four years of technical support.
Find more about CloudReady here.
Installing Android Apps
When it comes to Chrome OS’ relationship with Android, there are many opinions. There are people who believe that Google should make Chrome OS their primary platform. There are many who believe that Android and Chrome OS will be somehow merged in the future.
I am in the Chrome OS and Android Will Marry camp. From what I see, Google is busy making Android apps work on Chrome OS and Chrome Apps work on other platforms.
Chrome OS got Android App Runtime in a 2014 update and the first set of Android apps were announced in September 2014. Evernote was one of the first Android apps to make it to Chrome OS. Google ported a few more apps and but then they announced an official tool to port Android apps to Chrome OS.
Printing from Chrome OS
Most of the Chrome OS fans (or Chromies!) would tell you that printing is something that Chrome OS needs to get better at. You cannot connect a regular printer via USB and start printing. Google wants you to use their Cloud Print service, which is traditional printing plus some magic of cloud computing.
If you have a Cloud Print ready printer, you will find this easy and mostly useful. However, if you have a traditional printer, this means setting it up as a cloud-print ready printer with an additional computer which must stay online all the time.
Read more about it here.
What is a Chromebook?
What is a Chromebook? Chromebooks are laptops that run Chrome OS, a new type of operating system that Google makes. It is a simple computer that everyone can use without worrying about software updates or antivirus software.
They work better when connected to the internet and has plenty of features that work even when you are offline, to keep you productive or entertained.
If you use Google Chrome on your Mac or PC, you already know how to use a Chromebook because the most important part of a Chromebook is the Chrome browser. There are a few things that make Chromebooks different from other computers. Here is a guide to get you started with Chromebooks.
Here is my favorite video when it comes to explaining what Chrome OS is:
The Story of Chromebooks
Google announced Chrome OS on July 7, 2009. In December 2010, Google made the first Chromebook ever, the Cr48. Google distributed Cr48s to Chrome OS enthusiasts and developers to test drive the Chrome OS operating system.
First commercial Chromebooks went on sale in May 2011. Here is a video that went out with them explaining what Chromebooks are:
Chromeboxes and Chromebases
Chromeboxes and Chromebases also run Chrome OS.
Chromebase is an all-in-one PC running Chrome OS. Similar to Windows or Mac all-in-one computers, there is no additional CPU tower for this computer. Everything is packed behind the monitor. Connect a keyboard and mouse, and you are good to go.
Chromeboxes are desktop computers, sold with or without mouse and keyboard combo. These are cheap compared to Chromebases and most of the Chromebooks. For schools and businesses with lot of old computers around, Chromeboxes are an attractive concept. Buy Chromeboxes, use the same old monitors, keyboards and mice to switch completely to Chrome OS!
Chromebit is a dongle that runs Chrome OS. You can call it a Chromebook in a stick. Connect this stick to a monitor to TV with an HDMI port, pair a Keyboard and Mouse via Bluetooth; you have a new Chromebook. Okay, Chrome OS computer.
Currently there is only one model of Chromebit available in the market. Asus Chromebit comes with 2 GB RAM and 16GB storage. Price is the biggest attraction for this mini Chromebook. You can buy the Asus Chromebit for US$85.
Getting Started With Your Chromebook
Getting started with a new Chromebook is very easy. The laptop starts when you open the lid. Login using your Google account, and (if you use Chromesync) all your bookmarks, saved passwords, extensions and everything that you chose to sync, starts downloading to your Chromebook, making you feel at home.
Keyboard is something that you will need some getting-used-to. Here is the first thing for you to do. Press CTRL + ALT + ? and you will see all the available keyboard shortcuts.
Chromebook Keyboard Shortcuts
1. Caps Lock
Capslock key is one of the first things that users look for when they start using a Chromebook. The Keyboard on Chromebooks and other Chrome OS devices, the Search key replaces Capslock. However, for those who really need Capslock, there is a keyboard shortcut.
You can enable caps lock with the keyboard shortcut: ALT + SEARCH
2. Home and End
Just like the dedicated capslock key, there are no Home, End or Delete keys on Chromebook keyboards. But there are alternatives. Here is a handy list.
- For Home key, press CTRL + ALT + Up Arrow
- For End key, press CTRL + ALT + Down Arrow
3. Delete Key
See a pattern here? There is no delete key either on your Chromebook. At least not a dedicated key. But there is a keyboard shortcut for it, something that you will use a lot from now onwards:
- For Delete key, press ALT + Backspace.
You can use the same keyboard shortcut for deleting files from the file manager and Google Drive.
4. Lock Screen
You can hold the power button for a second or two to lock the Chromebook’s screen. However, if you are a keyboard shortcut lover, or missing one of your most used Windows keyboard shortcuts, press SEARCH +L.
Okay, you now know how to lock the screen. But what is the keyboard shortcut to log out of your Chromebook? Ctrl + Shift + Q it is!
There is no PrtScn key on a Chromebook. You can easily take screenshots using a keyboard combination.
- To take a screenshot of the entire screen, press Ctrl +
- To take a screenshot of a specific part of the screen, press Ctrl + Shift +
- If you are on a Chromebook with touchscreen, go to Settings > More tools > Take screenshot to take screenshot using the touchscreen.
7. Open the File Manager
One of the most used keyboard shortcuts for me, second only to the Screenshot one (I take a lot of screenshots for my blog) Press ALT + Shift + M to open the file manager of your Chromebook.
8. Create New Folder in File Manager
While you are in the Files app, or the File Manager, Ctrl + E creates a new folder. Since Google Drive is integrated with the Files app, this keyboard shortcut can be used to create new folders in the Google Drive section of the app.
9. The Help App
The Chrome OS team has added a good looking help app that works offline. To access this, press Ctrl + ?
10. The King of All Chromebook Keyboard Shortcuts
Press Ctrl + Alt + ? to view all the available Chromebook keyboard shortcuts right on your screen! This one easily wins as the king (or queen) of all keyboard shortcuts.
A few more keyboard shortcuts, if you got some extra time here!
- Ctrl+ to configure if you have external display connected.
- To open a command prompt, press CTRL + ALT+ T.
- On an ARM Chromebook, Hold ESC + Refresh buttons then push power to enter developer mode
- To view hardware information of your Chromebook while it is booting, press Ctrl + i orTab + i
- On the file manager, Ctrl + E creates a new folder
- You can rotate Chrome OS screen using this keyboard shortcut. <Ctrl> + <Shift> + <Refresh> . Try portrait mode now!
- <Refresh> + <Power> does a cold reboot.
- <Shift> + [ ] (F4 or the full screen key) to make a packaged (native) app full screen.
- Quickly manage displays connected to your Chromebook with these keyboard shortcuts: <Alt> + <FullScreen> = Swap primary monitor <Ctrl> + <FullScreen> = Mirror monitors
Here is Chrome Story’s guide for new Chromebook users: Getting Started with your Chromebook. If you are new to Chromebooks, this is a very useful resource.
Using Chromebooks Offline
Chromebooks work the best when they are online. That does not mean that they are completely useless without the internet. You can be productive, watch videos, play music, and even play some games when your Chromebook is offline.
The file manager, video player and audio player works with any local file that you have on the Chromebook, or for files you can access using a memory card or a USB drive. This does not really need any set up.
There are productivity apps that work offline too. However, your offline experience with Chromebooks will be better if you are prepared to go offline. What to do When Your Chromebook is Offline is Chrome Story’s guide that explains how to prepare to stay productive with your Chromebook even when you are offline.
Questions New Chromebook Users Ask
This is my attempt to answer the very first set of questions asked by new Chromebook users. If you just bought a Chromebook, I am sure you will find this useful. We will start with the basics and take it from there!
Where is the Delete Key and Caps Lock On A Chromebook?
- Looking for caps lock? press ALT + SEARCH
- You can configure the Search key to do other things. Go to the settings page and search for Keyboard Settings. On Keyboard Settings page, Search dropdown menu is what you are looking for. You can set it to work as Alt, Ctrl , Caps Lock or disable it.
Important!: If you re-map keys, other keyboard shortcuts where SEARCH is involved will stop working. It is hence not recommended to re-map keys.
- For Delete key, press ALT + Backspace. You can use the same keyboard shortcut for deleting files from the file manager and Google Drive.
Can I Install Itunes or Photoshop? How do I update Chromebook?
- How do I Install Software / Programs on My Chromebook?
- Can I Use Photoshop on my Chromebook?
- Can I Install iTunes on a Chromebook?
- How do I Update Chrome OS on My Chromebook?
Do I Need Antivirus?
Chrome OS updated automatically. There is a new version of Chrome OS coming to your every 6 weeks. This means you have the most updated technology all the time. According to Google, Chrome OS does not require any antivirus software because of the way it is built. Here is the official description.
How Big is Chrome OS? How Much Space Do I Get on 16GB SSD?
Chrome OS is about 6 GB. Typically, your 16GB Chromebook SSD will leave you with 9 – 10 GB to use as local storage.
Can I Play Videos and Music on My Chromebook?
Yes you can! Chrome OS has an inbuilt media player. You can play the following audio and video formats:
Can I Connect my External Hard Drive?
Yes you can! You connect your external storage device and access files from them. Here is the list of supported file systems:
- HFS+ (read-only on journaled HFS+)
- ISO9660 (read-only)
- UDF (read-only)
Can I Connect USB Drive, Keyboard, Mice and Similar Accessories?
Most of them, actually. Here is the official list.
- USB keyboards (Windows and Mac)
- USB mice with the following features: left button, right button, scrollwheel
- USB hubs
- Bluetooth mice and keyboards
- Monitors with DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI, or VGA connections
- USB, DisplayPort, and HDMI audio devices
- Headset with a 3.5 mm jack
- Webcam with a USB cable
- MP3 player or mobile phone with a USB cable (can be used for charging)
Can I Open Microsoft Word or Excel Files on It? Is Microsoft Office Available?
Microsoft Office is not available on Chromebook. However, if you are looking for a full office suite, Google Docs is a good option. That is when you need to create new documents. If you have a Word document or an Excel Sheet, you can view and edit them on your Chromebook.
This works offline too!
Chromebook Tips and Tricks
- Top 100 Tips and Tricks for Google Chrome: I am sure you will learn at least 10 new things about Chrome here.
- 100 Chromebook Tips: And a 100 more about Chromebooks here.
Best Chromebook to Buy
In the US, Chromebooks are available from multiple sources including Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg and many more retailers. If you are in India, Flipkart sells Chromebooks along with Croma. Canada has different online and physical retailers offering Chromebooks.
what is the best Chromebook to buy? Is it going to be the Pixel, a Samsung Chromebook, or an Acer Chromebook? Or may be a Toshiba, Asus or Dell? Interesting question.
A lot of Chromebooks share similar specs. For example, most of them have either 16GB SSD or 32GB SSD as local storage. Most of them have the same screen resolution, processor and RAM.
You should buy a Chromebook that best suits your requirements. For students, there are rugged Chromebooks available. There are Chromebooks that have good screen resolution and even touch screen. There are Chromebooks that can work in a tablet mode too.
Most of the entry models have 2GB RAM. It is however recommended to buy one with 4GB or more of RAM for better performance.
The best Chromebook is the one that suits your requirements!
Skype on Chromebook
To use Skype from your Chromebook, visit web.skype.com. Login to your account and you should be able to start using Skype right away.
Only text chat is available at the moment. Microsoft is still working on adding audio and video chat support to Skype on Chrome OS.
Speeding Up Chromebook
The easiest way to increase speed and reduce battery usage when you need a quick browsing session, is to use the guest mode. It loads Chrome without any extensions or apps. It is faster and takes less battery. To speed up the regular mode on your Chromebook, here are some suggestions:
- Close tabs that you are not using currently
- Go to chrome://extensions and disable or uninstall extensions and apps that you no longer use
- Perform a powerwash.
Chromebook Vs Ordinary Laptops
Chromebooks cannot do a lot of things that your usual Windows laptops of Macbooks can do. They don’t have to. Chromebooks were not made to replace everything, at least not in the near future.
There are still plenty of things that Chromebooks do. The difference is, Chromebooks do those things a lot better than normal laptops. It takes you online under 7 seconds. It gives you security without any worries. Chromebooks gets better as they age with automatic software updates (ever felt your computer slowing down after you use it for couple of months and install some software?)
Chromebook Developer Mode
Let’s explore Chromebook’s Developer Mode. Developer mode gives you more control on the device. It is, as the name states, intended for developers, but if you are an adventurous soul, this is something you might want to try, if you promise to be careful.
Chromebook Developer Mode – What is it?
And what happens when you switch to developer mode? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Let’s take a look.
One of the things that Google did to make Chrome OS and Chromebooks is to lock down the device and operating system, so that it is safe from the root. Such a lock down means users cannot access certain advanced features, like installing a custom operating system on the device. For regular users, this is fine. They just need a safe and fast operating system and a computer that just works.
For developers, and those who wants to experiment with their Chromebook, (say, like dual boot another operating system on the side) this is an obstacle. So, how do you keep the device safe, and at the same time allow developers to unlock it?
Developer mode is the answer to this. It opens up the device to developers.
Developer Mode Vs Developer Channel
Many people get confused between the two. Developer Mode, as you already know is the Chrome OS feature that unlocks the device for developers to boot other operating systems or make changes to the existing one.
Developer channel is an experimental branch of Chrome OS which you can use with or without enabling Developer mode on your device. It is just a different version of Chrome OS, where new features show up for testing, before they are rolled out to the general public. You can easily switch to and from Developer Channel on Chrome OS.
How to Enable Developer Mode
Early Chromebooks had a physical switch that you can click to enable or disable the Developer mode. Newer Chromebooks have an easier option, a key combination that lets you restart and enable Developer Mode. I will explain both and give a list of devices showing which method to use for each of them.
Key Combination to Enable Developer Mode
Newer Chromebooks use a keyboard combination to enter Developer Mode. Here is how it works. To invoke Recovery mode, you hold down the ESC and Refresh (F3) keys and poke the Power button. To enter Dev-mode you first invoke Recovery, and at the Recovery screen press Ctrl-D (there’s no prompt. You will have to time go ahead and press CTRL+D). It will ask you to confirm, then reboot into dev-mode.
Physical Switch to Enable Developer Mode
Many Chromebooks use a physical key / switch that you can flip to enable the developer mode. This switch is different for different Chromebook models. Here is the official documentation on various Chromebook models.
I Lost My Chromebook – What Can I Do?
There are no good tracking methods available as far as I know. However, if you know the Mac address and IMEI (in case your Chromebook has 3G SIM card slot) you can use that for tracking.
You will not lose any data except for what you have saved in the local folder, or the Downloads folder. Those files cannot be retrieved because they are stored on your local drive.
Everything else, saved on the cloud, Google Drive etc will return to your new Chromebook when you sign in. It also depends your sync settings as well. If you have opted to “sync everything” you will get all your settings, extensions and bookmarks back.
Using With Virtual Box
There isn’t anyone releasing Chromium OS images for Virtualization around anymore. Mostly because there are many affordable Chromebooks available in the market and not a lot of people are interested in Chromium OS to get a taste of Chrome OS. The same applies for Chromium OS in USB.
Chrome OS and Linux
So, is Chrome OS Linux? There is much debate around this topic.Chrome OS uses the Linux Kernel under its hood. Some say that it is a Linux based operating system, but not a Linux distribution. Another argument is that Chrome OS is a Linux distribution that Google “skinned”.
Chrome OS Tablet
There are no Chrome OS based tablets available in the market as of now. There are a lot of Chromebook lovers who would happily stay in the queue for a Chrome OS based tablets, but the closest we have for now is the new Asus Flip Chromebook that can be folded into a tablet mode and has a touch screen.
Useful Links for Chromebook Users
- View current versions of Chrome OS (stable, beta and dev) here.
- A cleaner version is available here.
- Official Support Forum
- Contact a Ninja
- Release Announcement Blog