ChromeOS has come a long way since Google launched it in 2011, over 10 years ago now. It’s gotten Android app support, Linux programs, better integration with Android phones, and a host of UI improvements. I hadn’t touched the OS in years, so I decided to give it a try while I temporarily moved to a different workstation and then went on vacation.
That experience did not thrill me. For my workflow, ChromeOS was fine, but not as good as macOS or Linux. And for personal use on the road, I did not find Google’s desktop OS sufficient. Again, I’d much rather use macOS or Linux, or even Windows, for my mobile needs.
I spent the better part of a fortnight with ChromeOS as my exclusive desktop operating system. Here’s what I found.
ChromeOS: The Good
ChromeOS has many strengths, obviously. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be the education juggernaut that it is. For being centered around Chrome, it’s an incredibly efficient OS, booting up in mere seconds and working well, even on underpowered machines.
I installed ChromeOS Flex on two devices, a low-power Celeron mini PC (Geekom MiniAir 11) and a 2012 MacBook Pro. Performance-wise, I enjoyed the simplistic experience. Web pages loaded reasonably quickly and I hardly noticed any lag.
ChromeOS’ strength lies in that simplicity I just mentioned. It excels at providing the basic computer experience most people need. Since so much of our lives these days is online, ChromeOS offers most of what you could ask for if you just want to access email, social media, online education stuff, and so on.
But these points in ChromeOS’ favor did not outweigh the cons for me.
ChromeOS: The Bad
My biggest problem comes down to this: App compatibility, especially in ChromeOS Flex. This has long been an issue with ChromeOS, a common complaint many have made since 2011. So I won’t retread old ground, but even with Linux compatibility, I struggled with both my professional and personal workflows.
The former was actually the least offensive. I had access to Chrome, so I could get all of my work bookmarks, history, etc. Linux let me do some things I needed, like GIMP, but other things struggled, like Slack. In fact, with Slack and Discord, the apps flat out wouldn’t work. Every time I’d sign in, they’d open a browser tab and redirect me to the web version. While I could live without Discord on my MacBook, Slack on web was much more difficult than the native program.
ChromeOS Flex lacks support for the Play Store. Google touted Android app support as one of the mitigation tools against ChromeOS’ usability problems. In my previous experience, I found it serviceable as a patchwork solution. But its moderate benefits do not grace Flex, meaning that my homebrew Chromebox and Chromebook were hamstrung.
The Linux compatibility layer is nice, I’ll say that. The fact that it uses Debian and apt made things smoother for me, having learned most of what I know about Linux on Debian-based distros. I could install some software, like VS Code, Obsidian, and Synology Drive thanks to DEB and Flatpak files. But getting Wine to work right proved difficult — I never did get Scrivener to work right, despite following the same steps I did on Manjaro and Fedora.
I respect ChromeOS for most people, but if you need native software that does not have a web version, your success will be hit or miss. I was fine until I ran into things that wouldn’t launch (I had a lot of trouble with AppImages, for example), or sluggish performance on some Flatpaks, even on the modern Celeron-based mini PC.
All told, I gladly went back to my Fedora workstation when I was able, and I managed to get macOS Monterey installed on my 2012 MacBook Pro, despite it being unsupported. (Yes, I technically have a Hackintosh now — maybe I’ll tell you about that experience sometime, too.)
From this experiment, I learned that ChromeOS is not for me. So who is it for? It’s meant for people who need a simpler computing experience. There’s a reason it’s so strong in education environments. I also recommend ChromeOS to less tech-savvy people who just want to browse the internet, but still want a PC instead of relying on a phone or tablet.
But for me? This ain’t it, chief. And that’s fine. So if you’re like me and use a lot of native software that doesn’t have a web option, I’d stay away from ChromeOS as your main operating system. It certainly let me down when I’d rather it hadn’t.
Read next: Patch and restart Google Chrome right now!
I have, what I will call, my main computer which I use for Turbotax, downloading files, some video editing, Streaming, Over the Air TV, and recording the programs. Also recording TV shows and movies from On Demand services that I subscribe to using PlayOn (which is legal since the Betamax - HBO decision a hundred years ago in internet time). If you pay for it then you can copy it and actually a lot more if you look up the decision, as long as you don't make money. But I digress.
I have a laptop and I have an older computer that I used for work when I was self-employed (retired now) and I don't want to and actually can't upgrade them to Windows 11, so I tried out Flex. Most people use a browser and email and just about everything they do is browser-based. Flex is for them and me on my two other computers. I have been using It for a couple of months now and it is fine for that job.
Now if you are lucky enough to have in your bios something called Virtualization and you can figure out how to turn it on and if it is a new enough version, then you can also have what looks like an easy way to load Linux apps, but no luck for me.
Idk if it's clear enough that on CHROMEos, you should use Chrome. Everything else is just an additional extra pretty much only to be used if it is absolutely required.
Not to mention the fact that you're using ChromeOS Flex, which, while nominally the same, is pretty much its own thing.
- Note what sort of user they are, what they expect their computing environment to look like, what they use now that they're satisfied with, etc.
Because a linux developer using lots of content creation and app development tools isn't a customer for chrome os, and it never was. It's an end user run time that'll run android apps well, and some linux dev stuff.
While a fair slice of folks say that chrome os and flex are completely different, the answer is not really. While theres a separate fork for chromebooks and flex, google has brought so much of the cloudready compatibility into the root branch. All cloudready really needed was a kernel update to something made in this century. Cloudready folks were afraid to update it, as every time they tried they got more support problems than they could manage.
Similarly, let's discard the idea that it only runs on usb drives, it can in fact run fine on an internal drive.
And the one that says there's some sort of different 'experience' with a branded chromebook/box vs flex. I have boatloads of both. Other than customized drivers and perhaps a few vendor supplied bells and whistles, the experience is the same.
Last, author doesn't understand the edu market, and the reason why we use a managed chromebook environment isn't "because it's simple".
We use it because its free (outside the management tools subscription), it keeps the students OUT of the OS (for the most part, my kid still got into the command prompt), and the management tools allow a teacher to see what every student is doing, their progress, scores and so forth in real time.
Attempting to do a lot of that on another OS? Big bucks and big development.
The elegance and comprehensive approach to the management tools and ability to combine web based and android tools is really nice.
You can also get the android stuff working with flex. It takes a bit of time, but that's gotten easier and quicker. Just google it.
Speaking for myself, my setup at home resembles a small business arrangement more than a residence, with school work, work from home all the way to gaming setups. Outside of gaming, I've run an all chrome OS environment full time across every device with no problems and no ongoing "home tech support" like backups, OS reinstalls, etc.
And that was 4 years ago. Nothing new.