FOSS Enthusiasts: This article discusses the use of proprietary software and places it in a positive light. You have been warned. No angry emails please…
I strongly believe that Google has created one of the best operating systems designed with the everyday user1 in mind: Chrome OS. It is undeniably simple, reliable, easy to setup, and ships with several years of support before any form of EOL kicks in. Most new models have built-in support for the Google Play Store and Android applications, which is extremely helpful for application development and debugging.
Oh - Chrome OS devices also allow you to run Linux in a separate container alongside the main OS (on supported devices). You can’t complain about that!
Let’s take a quick look at some other positive features worth mentioning:
A handful of months ago I snagged the Lenovo Chromebook Duet when it was on sale for my wife. Since she mostly does all her work directly through an Android phone, I thought of this as a nice companion device. And indeed it was/still is.
In that time, I played around with the tablet myself to have a better grasp of the ecosystem and it’s obvious limitations. But a funny thing happened. I found that those “limitations” slowly started to disappear the longer I worked with the device.
So I decided to get my own Chrome OS device and snagged the Lenovo 10e Chromebook Tablet (on sale as well, of course).
Now, I know that your initial reaction is most likely: “Wow, those are pretty barebones specs” and you would be correct. But truly it’s all you need for this ecosystem to work. As cringe-inducing as it may sound, everything you plan to do on these devices should happen in the cloud. (Let’s take a moment to avoid vomiting in our collective mouths)
Instead of using just a few marketing buzz words, let me breakdown how I personally tailor Chrome OS to my needs as a designer / developer:
I feel like going into great detail explaining how to do basic, daily computing tasks is a little overkill here. Spreadsheets, word documents, Zoom meetings, streaming media, etc. all work as expected. You have the ability to use Google’s own web apps for these things or reach for other vendors such as Microsoft and Libre Office. Not being “locked in” to Google only software is nice and I appreciate the Chrome OS team being so flexible.
This one is a mixed bag and your own mileage may vary depending on your specific requirements. Personally, I use Github for almost all my main development work, so I utilize Codespaces. For those unfamiliar with the service, you are essentially running your Github repo in VSCode through the browser. It’s pretty impressive stuff.
If you happen to be a user who uses GitLab or BitBucket to store your project files, Gitpod is a similar product to Codespaces (which I’ve also used on occasion). This too works exceptionally well.
Some may not like this programming setup but for me it works great. If running code remotely isn’t your jam, you could always take a look at running VSCodium locally via Linux.
There is quite a bit of flexibility yet again in this category. Personally, I tend to use Figma almost exclusively as my main design tool. The best thing about Figma? It runs directly in the browser. A perfect fit for Chromebooks3.
I do still open up Gimp periodically for photo-specific work. It runs in it’s own Linux container and it chugs along smoothly, even with only 4GB of available memory. If all else fails, one could simply use something like Photopea to keep everything working through the browser (if Linux isn’t your cup of tea).
Those of you in love with MacOS specific apps like Sketch - I can’t help you here. You’re pretty much stuck with Apple’s ecosystem.
There are other options (that we will get into) but the main gaming champion here is Stadia. No contest4. So long as your internet speeds are over 10mbps, of course. I use garbage satellite internet (counting down the days for Starlink to become available here…) with an average speed of 18-20mbps and Stadia runs like a dream. Even wirelessly. Now pair this with the portability of a Chromebook device and you’ve got yourself a beefier Nintendo Switch (kind of).
You also have solid secondary options like GeForce Now and Microsoft’s xCloud (beta) for an even larger catalogue of games. Not to mention the ability to play a lot of Android games natively on Chromebooks that support Play Store applications.
I can already hear the screeching across the interwebs: “Wait - this is Google! They are literally Satan in disguise! No one can possibly use products from that evil mega corporation”. And while I agree with the sentiment, I think going down this pure, 100% elitist approach to software just doesn’t work with the everyday casual user. Not to mention the large swath of developers/designers screaming “Google is bad!” while working off an Apple device…
Hell even I, a fairly vocal advocate for open source software and privacy, can see the great benefits to using Chrome OS as a daily driver.
Testing out Chrome OS with your non-technical friends and family could help reduce a lot of headaches found in more “popular” systems. That doesn’t mean advanced users have to switch over - use what works the best for you. For my immediate family members and social circles, I have nothing but positive things to say about Chrome OS.
I have no crystal ball to see what the future of Chrome OS holds - but it looks pretty promising to me.
“Users” referring to those mainly using their devices for word documents, spread sheets, media consumption, programming, messaging, minor interactivity (no heavy video or production editing, etc) ↩
These updates go mostly unnoticed as well - compared to that of MacOS or Windows… ↩
Your mileage may vary depending on how much RAM you have on your device ↩
Although, Stadia’s current game selection leaves a lot to be desired ↩
As always, I'd love to read your feedback in my public inbox!