Chromebooks – What They Can and Can’t Do

Ben Modica, Technical Consultant | February 13, 2017

Chromebooks are laptop devices running Google’s operating systems known as ChromeOS. ChromeOS is a Google product, while multiple hardware manufacturers make the hardware (ASUS, Acer, HP, etc.). On a Chromebook you can run the Google Chrome browser, along with an assortment of Google Apps and (eventually) Android apps as well.

Benefits of Chromebooks
For recreation, Chromebooks can do much of the same things an average person would do on a laptop. Surf the web, stream music or videos, browse social media – all of these work great on a Chromebook. If you do serious audio/video editing as a hobby or are a gamer, you may want to look elsewhere, but a Chromebook can fulfill most normal needs.

Chromebooks are fast machines and they tend to endure over time. ChromeOS is a very light operating system, meaning there is not a lot going on in the back end to take up valuable computer resources. Chromebooks primarily handle the user input (Keyboard & mouse) and output (display the results on their screen) and rely on accessing web sites and systems that handle most of the processing workload. This gives the Chrome operating system less to do. This may limit some business functionalities, however it keeps the operating system clean and quick.

You can expect to have a very secure device when you use a Chromebook, which receives updates from Google regularly. They run on a version of Linux, which is based on UNIX – the same base operating system Apple’s computers run. So, while I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to get malware, or have your system compromised, it is much more difficult than if you were running a Windows computer, even with an anti-virus program.

Chromebooks are normally very light and easy to carry, and cheaper than most traditional laptops. While not available on all models yet, the ability to run Android apps is coming to many models. This adds a lot of functionality to these machines, as the Android app ecosystem has been around for many years, and is full of apps for both productivity and recreation.

The Downside of Using Chromebooks
For productivity, you can perform many of the same tasks as you can on a traditional Windows or Mac laptop. Surfing the web is an obvious one. Google Docs, while not as robust as the Microsoft Office Suite, can open, edit, and save files in most Microsoft Office formats. However, if you are using Office programs that are more advanced, such as Microsoft Access, or macros in your documents/spreadsheets, you may want to stick with the Windows or Mac operating systems.

For the time being, Chromebooks cannot run Outlook, which may be a big hang-up for some business users. Most email systems now, like Office 365, also have web portal access to email. While this option is not as loaded with features as the full Outlook application allows, you are able to send and receive email using a Chromebook. Again, this is definitely something to consider if you’re thinking about a Chromebook. If you use other 3rd party applications such as Adobe products or financial software, you likely won’t be able to use these on a Chromebook either.

Chromebooks can’t do everything, and it is important to make sure you understand what your needs are before purchasing one. But, if you’re looking for an easily portable, inexpensive computer that doesn’t need too many bells and whistles, I would highly recommend a Chromebook.

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