Why I use a Chromebook

I’ve been using Chromebooks since they launched, starting with the CR-48 prototype in 2010. During that time, and even before, I’ve used Linux, Macs, and PCs. I still do. But for the majority of my computing these days, I use a Chromebook. And when I point out some of the high-end Chromebooks that cost as much as a decent Mac or PC, I regularly hear the question: “Why spend so much when you can get a Mac or PC for the same price and more?“That’s a great question. Here is my answer to why I use a Chromebook and ChromeOS.

ChromeOS is built on Linux and Linux is zippy

So we’ve been hearing “This will be the year of the Linux desktop” every year for at least a decade. Maybe two. But we keep saying it because Windows has the lion’s share of desktop computing while MacOS has a smaller but passionate base. And then we have the many versions, or distributions, of Linux.

Still, there were quarterly periods when Chromebooks outsold Macs. And ChromeOS is arguably a Linux desktop platform.

Maybe not in the traditional sense. But it runs the Linux kernel and has a graphical user interface along with excellent support for various hardware. It is perhaps the easiest “Linux desktop” to use: built with the browser as the main interface and a few native utilities such as Files, Gallery and Launcher.

Again, this point is moot by Linux purists and it is a valid point.

What matters most to me is that Linux is generally one of the fastest and most stable operating systems. It can be configured to be as light as needed so that it runs fast on minimal hardware. Or you can go wild and install tons of apps, packages, and utilities on a computer that costs thousands of dollars due to high-end hardware.

In other words: I have owned two laptops of the same brand and had exactly the same material. Remember the HP Stream / HP Chromebook 11?

It was a repurposed laptop design to launch with one of two operating systems. One came with Windows and the other with ChromeOS. The overall experience was a lot faster on the Chromebook version compared to Windows.

HP Stream Windows Laptop also sold with ChromeOS

I’ve often said that “ChromeOS is a lighter platform than Windows” and that’s exactly what I mean. And I don’t think I’m wrong even if some push me away. In fact, a recent video presentation on the Windows Subsystem for Linux by Microsoft’s Scott Hanselman effectively verifies my observation, saying

“Processes on Windows have always been heavy…Linux processes don’t think about windowing…forking (separating a new process) is like 10X; it’s an order of magnitude slower [than on Linux.]”

I understand Microsoft needs to keep thousands of apps, processes and services in their software for backward compatibility. But I don’t need it for what I do, and I don’t want it either. I want a fast system, so I use a Chromebook, Linux based.

I don’t need to “do more” on a Chromebook

This brings me to my second point. Yes, it’s a valid criticism of Chromebooks that they can’t do as much as a Mac or PC. I can’t install traditional desktop apps, although I can (and do) install Linux desktop apps. I can’t play natively yet, although that will change in the near future. But I wouldn’t play on a Mac either. PC gaming is not a basic skill on the Mac platform.

I owned many game consoles dating back to 1982 and these days I have a custom Windows PC for the best gaming experience. And I have a Steam Deck reservation to play my PC games on the go.

I don’t care that I can’t play all the games on my Chromebook. I’ve streamed games with Nvidia’s GeForce Now from time to time, but that’s mostly because I don’t fancy being tied down to my home office where the gaming rig is. So I don’t “need” to play on my Chromebook.

And the video editing?

I got out of the YouTube game years ago so I don’t need this feature. For the few videos I create for personal use, I do what millions of people do: I use my phone. Yes, ChromeOS is gaining video editing and movie making functionality in the coming months. I’m going to try but I don’t “need” it.

ChromeOS video editing on Chromebooks

I can’t natively use Microsoft Word on my Chromebook, or build iOS apps. Guess what: I don’t do those things. I use an iPhone, so I can’t receive my text or messages on a Chromebook. But my phone is always with me so I’m covered.

I could list hundreds other apps that I can’t run on a Chromebook that I could run on a Mac or PC. Does not matter to me. I don’t need these apps. Just in case there is a modern app I need, I can always look for an Android version to see if it cuts the mustard.

Are there any limitations on a Chromebook? Sure! Do these limitations apply to my workflow? No. They can apply to your personal workflow, and for that reason, I’m never suggesting that everyone can or should use a Chromebook full-time.

But I? Simply put, I use a Chromebook because it can do what I need it is to be done. It’s the same reason I don’t own a truck or SUV. I don’t know need to haul things or go off-roading, so I have a car. The car is limited compared to the truck but… so what if I never use the truck’s unique features?

ChromeOS and Chromebooks have evolved relatively quickly

Windows has been around in one form or another since 1985, and I’ve been using it since 1990 with Windows 3.0. Before that I was using DOS and Commodore BASIC 2.0.

MacOS is built around NeXTStep from 1985 and has evolved since then. I started using macOS when Apple switched to Intel processors in 2006. I also ran Windows on this machine, using Apple’s BootCamp utility. Long story short, Macs and PCs have been evolving for almost four decades. ChromeOS only turned 10 years old in 2019. It’s a relative toddler in terms of operating systems.

Chrome OS in 2009
yuck! It’s so 2009!

And yet, look how far ChromeOS and Chromebooks have come from this CR-48 prototype!

We’ve gone from low-cost, low-power repurposed netbooks (the main reason people mistakenly assume Chromebooks are supposed to be cheap) to premium, high-end, cutting-edge hardware. And there are devices everywhere between these two extremes. I can choose an inexpensive Chromebook for basic everyday use and not worry if the device gets run over by a bus. Or I can prepare a new configuration with maximum internals for intensive programming projects or computer classes.

Thanks to the evolution of ChromeOS with new features every four weeks, combined with a march towards supporting the widest possible range of hardware, I can get a capable Chromebook at any price. The pace of software updates with added features is another reason I use a Chromebook.

ChromeOS in 2022
It’s better! ChromeOS in 2022

Have there been times over the past decade when I’ve had to turn to a Mac or PC over a Chromebook? Absolutely!

Without the addition of Linux to Chromebooks a few years ago, I would never have been able to effectively complete 8 computer science courses at a local community college using a Chromebook. There were times when a current ChromeOS feature wasn’t available on a Chromebook. So it was a Windows Surface or a MacBook Air that suited my needs better at times. This is much less the case now.

Figure out what you need to do and buy the best tool for those tasks

This brings me back to the idea that Chromebooks aren’t for everyone. It’s OK, and better yet, it doesn’t impact my choice of computer. I think long and hard about the tasks I have to do on a computer. I then research which device and/or operating system will allow me to accomplish these tasks as quickly and easily as possible.

For me, today, it’s a Chromebook. For you, that could be a PC, Mac, Linux machine, or even a Raspberry Pi. And that’s OK! Buy the best computer tool for your tasks and be happy.

That’s what I did and that’s why I use a Chromebook.

About Jon Moses

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