Google’s Chrome OS is an alternative to operating systems like Windows and macOS. It’s a great platform that’s aimed at a specific audience and has its pros and cons, just like its rivals. If you’re thinking of buying a Chromebook, the first thing you should do is learn exactly what is Chrome OS, how it compares with more traditional operating systems, and who exactly should and shouldn’t use it. You’ll find answers to all these questions and more in this post.
What is Chrome OS, anyway?
Chrome OS is an operating system developed and owned by Google. It’s based on Linux and is open-source, which also means it’s free to use.
A big advantage of Chrome OS is that it’s super simple to use. Although it has a desktop environment similar to the one you get on a Windows machine, Chrome OS is basically a web browser at its core. You can watch videos, scroll through Facebook and other social networks, and do everything else you can do in a browser on rival operating systems like Windows and macOS.
Just like Android phones, Chrome OS devices have access to the Google Play Store, but only those that were released in or after 2017. This means that most of the apps you can download and run on your Android phone can also be used on Chrome OS. However, keep in mind that not all of these apps are optimized for Chrome OS. Those that aren’t can only be used in phone screen format, which takes up just a portion of the screen on a Chromebook. To learn more about exactly how to run Android apps on Chrome OS devices, head to our dedicated article here.
Some newer Chromebooks also have the ability to run Linux apps, which further advances the operating system’s capabilities. This means Chrome OS can even run desktop-level programs, given they are available for Linux platforms.
The simplicity of Chrome OS also has a major drawback. Unlike on Windows and macOS devices, you can’t download and run AAA games or use desktop programs like Adobe Premiere Plus, for example. You can only run programs and games that are in the Play Store. This is why Chromebooks aren’t for everyone.
What’s the difference between Chrome OS and Chrome the browser?
Google’s Chrome browser allows you to access the web and works pretty much the same on all platforms including Windows, macOS, and Android. Its rivals include browsers like Firefox, Opera, Microsoft Edge, and Brave, among many others. Chrome is currently the most popular browser in the world with a market share of around 65 percent (all platforms combined), according to StatCounter.
Some say Chrome OS is nothing more than a glorified browser.
Chrome OS, on the other hand, is an operating system that powers Chromebooks, just like Windows powers certain laptops. It comes with the Google Chrome browser installed that can be used to access the web. The OS is designed around simplicity, so there aren’t a lot of extra features you get outside of just launching the Chrome browser and surfing the web. There are a few, though, including things like running Android apps and the ability to save images to the device’s local storage, just to name a few.
Because of its simplicity, some refer to Chrome OS as nothing more than a glorified browser. While that may have been the case years back, it isn’t true anymore, mainly because of the support for Android apps.
Who is Chrome OS for?
Chromebooks are designed to be simple and cheap, although there are high-end models available as well. If all you want to do with a laptop is to browse the web, watch YouTube videos, play Android games, and use the same apps you do on your phone, a Chrome OS device is definitely something to consider.
However, if you’re a more advanced user who wants to play popular AAA PC games and use software like Photoshop, a more traditional Windows or even a macOS device is better suited for your needs. Keep in mind that while software like Photoshop can be used on Chrome OS since you can download it from the Play Store, the Android version of the app is far less powerful and feature-packed than the Windows variant.
That’s just a general guideline for who should use a Chromebook and who shouldn’t. If you want to dive deeper into the topic, check out the main pros and cons of Chrome OS below, which will help you figure out whether a Chromebook is for you.
- Simple: Chrome OS is all about simplicity. The Chromebook operating system is so simple, even your grandma could use it. It also works fast and boots up in mere seconds.
- Cheap: Chrome OS is open-source and free to use. It’s designed for simple tasks like browsing the web and running Android apps, so it doesn’t need high-end hardware. For those reasons, Chrome OS devices are generally cheaper than their Windows/macOS counterparts, although there are a few expensive models on offer as well.
- Android app support: As already mentioned, Chromebooks released in the last few years all support Android apps, making them a lot more useful than they once were.
- Linux app support: In recent years, Google has added support for Linux applications. This means Chromebooks can now run desktop-level software, given that the Chromebook supports Linux apps and has enough power to run them.
- Secure: Because of its simplicity, Chrome OS is a lot more secure than Windows laptops, especially since most of what you’ll download will be from the Play Store. There are also frequent and automatic Chrome OS updates available as well as built-in virus protection.
- Cloud-based: Chrome OS is designed to be cloud-based as much as possible. You have all of Google’s services available including Google Docs for creating documents, Drive for storing your files, and Photos for all your images. That means you can access all these files and documents on other devices with an internet connection, regardless of your location. You can also be sure that if your Chromebook gets lost, stolen, or damaged, you won’t lose your files.
- Weight: Chrome OS-powered devices generally don’t have large hard drives and other high-end specs, which means they are lighter than most other laptops — making them ideal for road warriors.
- Battery life: Since Chrome OS is a simple operating system and Chromebooks don’t need a lot of power, battery life is generally excellent.
- Software compatibility: I’ve already mentioned this, but I’ll mention it again since it’s the biggest drawback of Chrome OS devices. You can’t use full versions of Photoshop, Microsoft Office, and many, many, other programs on Chromebooks. That is, unless the app is available for Linux, but many of these big apps aren’t. And if you’re sticking to mobile apps chances are plenty of features are being stripped out.
- Not great for gaming: You can play games on Chromebooks, but you’re limited to the titles available in the Play Store. So you can’t play AAA games on Chrome OS devices, as they don’t support them. But even if they did, you wouldn’t be able to play many of them since Chromebooks are not powerful machines to begin with. Keep in mind this is changing, though, as cloud gaming is becoming more common with services like Stadia taking on the market.
- Small storage space: Since they are cloud-based, the storage space you get on a Chromebook is generally a lot smaller than what you would expect on a Windows laptop. Instead of 500GB, expect around 64GB. This isn’t a huge drawback since you don’t need a lot of space, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless.
- Offline mode: Chrome OS devices work best when you have access to the internet. You can use them in offline mode, but the experience isn’t always the best. Some apps won’t work at all, while others will have limited functionality in offline mode.
Chrome OS devices
Chrome OS primarily powers Chromebooks. There are plenty of them to choose from at different price points, although there are more affordable models available than those boasting high-end specs and matching price tags.
We won’t list our pick for the best Chromebooks in this post, as that would make it too long. To learn which ones we think are worth your money, check out our dedicated best Chromebooks post at the link instead. If you’re on a budget, we also have a list of the best Chromebooks under $300 you can get. Alternatively, you can check out our lists of the best Chromebooks by brand via the links below.
In addition to Chromebooks, you’ll also find Chrome OS on a few tablets. These devices are even more portable and can also be paired with a keyboard in case you have to write a longer email or create a document. One of the best Chrome OS tablets is definitely Google’s own Pixel Slate, but it’s also quite expensive. There are cheaper alternatives available, which you can check out by reading our “The best Chromebook tablets you can buy” post.
Top Chrome OS questions and answers
Q: Can all Chrome OS devices run Android and Linux apps?
A: No. Older Chromebooks from 2017 and before likely can’t run either. And if you’re looking to get a Chromebook with Linux support you’ll want an even newer model. Check which Chromebooks support Android and Linux apps here.
Q: Are Windows and macOS devices superior to Chrome OS devices?
A: They can generally do more, but I wouldn’t call them superior. They are just different. Each OS is aimed at different users. Which one is better comes down to personal wants and needs.
Q: Can Chrome OS run Fortnite?
A: Although Fortnite is available on the Play Store, you can’t download it on a Chromebook. The only way to get it on your device is to sideload the app, but even then there are requirements that have to be met. Your Chromebook has to have a 64-bit processor and at least 4GB of RAM, among other things.
Q: How much does Chrome OS cost?
A: Nothing, as it’s an open-source Chromebook operating system. This means that, unlike Windows, manufacturers can use it for free, which is one of the reasons why Chromebooks are so affordable.
Q: Can Chrome OS run Microsoft Office apps?
A: Yes, but only the mobile versions that are available on the Play Store. They get the job done but aren’t as feature-packed as those you get on Windows machines. Alternatively, you can run the browser versions of Microsoft Office apps.
Q: Will Chrome OS replace Windows?
A: It doesn’t look like it. Due to their differences, Chrome OS isn’t a direct competitor to Windows. It’s better in some ways and worse in others, which is why the two will have no problem coexisting on the market.
Q: Does Chrome OS have multi-user support?
A: Yes, it does. That means each member of a household can create their own profile on a Chromebook, which protects their privacy and enhances the overall experience.
Q: Is Chrome OS a safe operating system?
A: Yes, Chrome OS is a very secure platform. You don’t have to worry about bugs and viruses as much as you do with Windows laptops.