Moving to ChromeOS after growing up with Windows

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Tom Westrick

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Last year, I intended to upgrade my laptop to the new HP Spectre X360, but there was a critical issue: HP implemented the Thunderbolt 3 standard incorrectly, so trying to dock it to a USB-C hub and connect my second monitor became 20 minutes of begging the connector gods every time I needed to dock the laptop. After this, I evaluated the landscape for Windows laptops this year, and became frustrated: each of the flagship laptops and convertibles had some sort of flaw that made me hesitate buying them.

At the same time, I’ve become aware of just what I do on my laptop: 95% of the time, I’m doing something within a web browser. Even when I’m writing papers for school in Microsoft Word, I have my browser on my second display to display the research for said paper. When I’m not doing school work, I’m catching up on news from my favorite websites or watching Netflix.

Other than the few times I’ve tried Microsoft Edge (none of which lasted more than a day, for various reasons), I’ve been using Chrome as my browser for as long as I can remember. Legitimate battery life problems aside, Chrome is the best match for me: it’s the most secure browser, I trust Google’s privacy policy more than Microsoft’s, there are plenty of extensions and apps for my niche uses, and it’s always smooth.

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The Acer Chromebook R13, the first Chromebook I tried in earnest

Chrome OS is Google’s unique answer to the laptop and desktop form factors: it’s essentially the Chrome browser, plus a few extra features like Bluetooth device and Wi-Fi management that need to be included in a full operating system. There have been criticisms that something that is “just” a browser can’t replace a full laptop operating system like Windows or MacOS, and these aren’t unfounded: the few times I’ve tried Chrome OS in earnest made me miss some feature from Windows. Even when I bought a Chromebox for my parents a few years ago, they loved how simple it was - but they needed something that would work with their USB printer. For me, I’ve always needed a certain Windows program either for college or for personal use. Last term, I had to have SQL Server installed on my laptop; there’s no way in hell that would work on Chrome OS. I also backup DVD and Blu Ray’s, something that can’t be done with Chrome OS.

After being frustrated with the HP Spectre X360, I decided to try Acer’s Chromebook R13. It also includes a USB-C port for my home dock, features a 360 degree hinge for tablet use, and is one of the first Chromebooks to feature support for Android apps. For a lot of people, I think the Android app support will be crucial: by downloading the Microsoft Word app or Polarr Photo Editor, a Chromebook goes from covering 90% of a typical person’s usage to possibly reaching 100%. Word is a crucial example, since it’s the default word processing application for most users, and it works well. The Android app doesn’t have as many features as the desktop Windows version, but it has the essentials. If you’ve ever used the version of Word from the Windows Store, you’ll know what to expect.

Relevant

Setting up a Chromebook is dead simple: log into a Wi-Fi network, log into or create a Google account, and that’s it. From there, it will sync your Chrome bookmarks, theme and extensions if you’ve used the browser before. It will also check for and apply any OS updates, which is much easier compared to Windows. Whenever I’ve setup a Windows device in the past, it took about 30 minutes to an hour to download and install the necessary updates, even for my new gaming desktop that is plugged directly into my modem via Ethernet and has some of the fastest hardware you can put in a desktop right now. For both of the Chromebooks I’ve tried in the past month, downloading and installing updates didn’t take more than five minutes. All in all, the setup process didn’t take more than 10 minutes. With Windows, it takes me at least an hour to install necessary updates, turn off the unnecessary (to me) features like Cortana and OneDrive, and install my required programs. That’s assuming it grabs all the required updates the first time, which isn’t a guarantee.

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Nimbus Screenshot, a very helpful tool for ChromeOS

With the Acer Chromebook R13, I decided to move to the beta channel of Chrome OS for the Android app support, and even that was painless: the update took a few minutes to download, a minute to install and I was up and running again. I did it on coffee shop Wi-Fi too, so it’d probably be even faster on my home network. There was an issue with my mouse connecting on the beta channel - which is not surprising for pre-release software - so I went back to the stable release. This involves re-downloading the stable version of the OS and factory resetting the device. I did all of this on the coffee shop Wi-Fi, and the entire saga of downloading the beta, discovering the problem with my mouse, resetting and installing the stable version, and setting the Chromebook up as new took all of ten minutes.

Day to day usage is more pleasant than even high end Windows laptops, and is embarrassingly good compared to whatever Windows laptop could be bought for the same $400. I’ve used both the Chromebook R13 and HP Chromebook G1, and I’ll do a separate review on each. They both booted up within a second of me opening the laptop lid, and after a second to log in I was up and running. Installing any updates is a breeze: it will download in the background and you will be notified that an update is ready to install. Then, just continue whatever you were doing, and the update will install the next time you turn off the Chromebook. Windows 10 has become notorious for forcing computers to reboot whenever updates are ready to install, no matter what the user is doing. I agree that it’s important to keep users as up to date as possible with security patches, but the Chrome OS method of this is better since it gives users control on when the machine is rebooted. Again, even with installing updates the laptop takes only a minute to come back on and you can get back to whatever you were doing before.

The security aspect is probably the most important reason I recommend someone use a Chromebook: since Chrome OS can’t run the same software a Windows laptop can, it also can’t get the same malware or viruses that Windows can. The only way to install any extensions or apps is through the Chrome Web Store or Play Store for models that support Android apps, and all apps run in their own container so they don’t harm the rest of the operating system. Even on the off chance something goes horribly wrong, factory resetting a Chromebook takes all of five minutes.

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Using Desktop Word through Chrome Remote Desktop

Part of the reason I can use a Chromebook as my laptop of choice is because I have a secondary Windows desktop at home serving as my media server and gaming PC. Chrome Remote Desktop is a Chrome app that does exactly what it says: it allows you to remote into a connection on another machine. This can be another Chrome OS device, or a Windows or MacOS computer. I use it for the one off program I need for college, and it works wonderfully. I was able to remote into my server PC while I was in the same crowded coffee shop from before, and I had no issues. I played a few rounds of Halo: Spartan Assault using the Chromebook keyboard and my Bluetooth mouse, and I was able to play it with zero input lag. I wouldn’t want to use this for more complex games like Grand Theft Auto or a multiplayer game like CounterStrike, but for simple games and the few programs I need it works wonderfully. For backing up DVD’s and Blu Ray’s, I’d have to be physically present at my desktop computer, or boot my Chromebook into a different version of Linux. This means I can’t use my Chromebook for 100% of the tasks I do, but I think this is better than having a Windows laptop: I have something low maintenance when I just want to read news or watch Netflix that I can do a majority of my work on, and I have a backup when I need something more powerful.


Despite living in Texas (truck country) the past five years, I’ve driven a 2010 Kia Rio pretty much since I’ve lived here. For me, the Rio is perfect: it’s small and efficient, but can still fit a few people. For different reasons, I’ve moved every one and a half to two years since living in Texas, and I’ve either had to get a U-Haul, or borrow a truck from a friend. The availability of my friend’s truck and U-Haul lets me own an efficient car that suits my needs 99.9% of time, then upgrade to something more heavy duty for a specific task. Similarly, using a Chromebook suits my needs 99% of the time, and once I finish my degree it may be at 100%. In the meantime, I have my home PC I can remote into if I need a specific piece of software that isn’t available on Chrome OS.

Microsoft is introducing a version of Windows for low powered ARM devices to combat Android’s dominance in mobile and Chrome OS’s rise in education and enterprise, and I don’t think that will go well. For both the OS maker and the end user, it’s better to start with something dead simple and secure and grow it to meet specific niches, rather than take a larger operating system that can do a lot and try to shrink it to run well on low power hardware. If you’re curious about using a Chromebook, try this: use nothing more than the Chrome browser, plus settings for Bluetooth devices or updates, and see how well it goes. If that meets all of your needs, you will enjoy a Chromebook.
 

aj173

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Well, yeah. That's who Chromebooks and iPads were meant for: people who use their computers for browsing the internet and little else. Although I'd be careful about trusting Google with your privacy any more than Microsoft. Keep in mind that Google basically invented the practice of monetizing user data, so caveat emptor.
 

Tom Westrick

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Well, yeah. That's who Chromebooks and iPads were meant for: people who use their computers for browsing the internet and little else. Although I'd be careful about trusting Google with your privacy any more than Microsoft. Keep in mind that Google basically invented the practice of monetizing user data, so caveat emptor.

Microsoft also has an advertisement service they collect data for and profit from, and their privacy policy specifically states they share the data they collect with other companies.
 

papillrm

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Tom, you lost me for about a second or two when I was reading about borrowing a truck and renting a U-Haul in Texas. But the analogy does work. I've lived a lot longer than you and could probably write a thick book just enumerating the Windows problems that I've lived through. Like you, I now use my last Windows machine as sort of an application server that I infrequently access through Chrome Remote Desktop. And like you suggest, I ended up making the switch to a Chromebook after I had intentionally gotten to the point that nearly everything that I did in Windows involved using the Chrome browser, a browser extension, a Web app, and/or a Chrome app. Unlike you, I no longer backup one form of file storage media onto another. For better or worse, it's all on Google Drive, which is probably one of the safest gambles that a fellow can make. Even though I have installed Play Store apps on my Asus C100PA-DB02, there are only a couple that I actually often use. But it's a nice option. Good luck on your degree.
 

cnashx

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So... I have a HP Elite X3 and a Surface Pro4. I use the Elite X3 everyday and the Surface Pro4 only gets used for Word Processing, Movies/TV Streaming or Video/Picture Editing. The latter is the reason(s) I would never and could never switch to something like a Chromebook. Well, that and the fact that I could not seeing myself using Google anymore. I use my gmail address for junk email that I may need to access or sending an email to someone that I don't want to have my regular email addresses. The only google product I use occasionally besides that is Google Earth because there is no real replacement sadly, but I don't save ANY data there.
 

fatclue_98

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Hey Tom,

I just picked up the same Acer R13 Chromebook a few weeks ago. I did it because frankly, I needed to. I've used every platform there is so this was more of another notch in my belt than anything else. It's very zippy and all but I can see that ChromeOS wasn't optimized for 1080p. Text is tiny and I'm always having to pinch and zoom. I haven't gotten on the Beta Channel yet so I wanted to ask, how are the Android apps and how do they scale on a 13.3" FHD display?
 

Krystianpants

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Microsoft also has an advertisement service they collect data for and profit from, and their privacy policy specifically states they share the data they collect with other companies.

Could you point me to this? The advertising and sharing of information that you don't explicitly allow?
I see people mentioning but no one ever has a reference.
 

worldspy99

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I would love to use a Chromebook or an iPad and use the PC as a server. Unfortunately my professional needs can't be met with either of those two devices so I am kinda stuck using a Windows laptop (work issue) and a Surface Pro 3. One of these days I am going to get one for my kid, however currently the school recommends a PC as well so....
 

Chintan Gohel

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One big reason chromebook or anything similar won't spread rapidly - no internet

When your internet is down, you're stuck, plain and simple - you can't do anything at all
 

N_LaRUE

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Chintan Gohel

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Not true anymore - Can you use a Chromebook offline? | Android Central

To be technical about it, for most people, not having an internet connection for their laptop, regardless what it is, is an issue.

Well, in my opinion, not having access to your files anywhere you go is an issue - hence a laptop with internal storage counts rather than a chromebook with minimal storage options

Internet isn't available everywhere everytime and at the speeds needed - I have a crappy connection at home that rarely works as it should and I can't change that because there aren't other options available - I want to watch a 360p video on youtube, that will take 4 times longer to buffer than to watch - I'm better off getting the videos copied from someone's hard disk or flash drive
 

N_LaRUE

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Well, in my opinion, not having access to your files anywhere you go is an issue - hence a laptop with internal storage counts rather than a chromebook with minimal storage options

Internet isn't available everywhere everytime and at the speeds needed - I have a crappy connection at home that rarely works as it should and I can't change that because there aren't other options available - I want to watch a 360p video on youtube, that will take 4 times longer to buffer than to watch - I'm better off getting the videos copied from someone's hard disk or flash drive

Did you not read the article? Chrome has a file system. Chormebooks have hard disks. Android apps are available now with local storage. Chromeapps have local storage. Chromebooks have SD card slots and USB ports. What else do you need?

I get you have a crappy internet connection. Anyone with one will have issues with any connected service. Which was my point.
 

Chintan Gohel

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@Tom Westrick

Is performance really that good? My laptop is an i7 with 8GB RAM, 1TB hard disk and 14 inch screen and it cost me 650USD which is a bit more than 50% more than your device which has 4GB RAM, 32GB internal memory and a media tek processor - I think I got really good value for what I spent
 

Chintan Gohel

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Did you not read the article? Chrome has a file system. Chormebooks have hard disks. Android apps are available now with local storage. Chromeapps have local storage. Chromebooks have SD card slots and USB ports. What else do you need?

I get you have a crappy internet connection. Anyone with one will have issues with any connected service. Which was my point.

that model has 32GB which is low by today's standards :wink:
 

Giddora

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Chrome is the best match for me: it’s the most secure browser, I trust Google’s privacy policy more than Microsoft’s,

You do know that Google is one of very few companies that has actually broken their own privacy policies, right?

Actually, their only way of profit is through invading your privacy.

Chrome is also not the safest browser. Edge is the only browser that has no active exploits out in the wild.

Other than those few flaws in your post, good luck!
 

shmsnh

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Didn't Google introduce the low-level privacy settings only recently? From what I've read in Google's and Microsoft's policies, both create an advertising profile based on your usage. But, if I remember correctly, Google seems to implement changes that always require user intervention to stop tracking. I'm sure Microsoft does this as well, but in my experience, they were always very open about what they collect and how much control we have over it.

Or, in other words, I've found it easier to manage my privacy settings with Microsoft than with Google. I don't have any idea about Apple personally, as I have not used their services (expect for trying some of those out for a short period).
 

Krystianpants

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Yes but you can opt out.

Microsoft personalized ad preferences

Which you can't do with Google as far as I can tell unless you stop using the service. Or clear search history constantly. But not sure if clearing the search history on google changes advertising since this information is already available to them and new searches will be.

Google even uses information from e-mail and other items and those MS privacy settings say they DON'T do that.

Google is worse than MS and those who keep trying to pretend otherwise are in denial.
 
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