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10 apps that make Chromebooks feel like a real desktop

Google Chromebooks are growing in popularity, but the experience can feel foreign to some. Here are some apps to make it feel like home for desktop users.

 

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 Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

Nowadays, most of the work we do is online; and as people become less wary of the cloud, our values change regarding what we need in a personal computer. While critics initially wrote off the Google Chromebook as a curiosity, Chromebooks are gaining traction with consumers, in education, and in the enterprise.

While the move to a Chromebook might make technical sense, it can be a jarring transition. The Chromebook is meant to feel different than your standard desktop PC, but you can still get work done.

Here are ten apps that will make your Chromebook experience more productive.

1. Gmail Offline

Gmail Offline is exactly what it sounds like, an offline version of Gmail that uses a cached version of your Gmail data to let you respond to email when you are offline. After you compose a message and hit send, it will hold the email until you connect to the Internet again and it will send it.

Perfect for a business traveler, this app allows you to catch up on your online work when you don't have Internet access. So, if you don't want to pay for in-flight Wi-Fi, you can still respond to emails in the air and know that they will send as soon as you touch down and reconnect to the airport's Wi-Fi. You can even access a cached version of your address book.

You can download Gmail Offline from the Chrome Web Store, or you can select "enable offline" through your standard Gmail app settings. Once you begin installing it, make sure to allow it to work in offline mode. This will ensure that Gmail will support cached emails offline.

By the way, you can use this functionality with the Chrome browser to get offline Gmail on any machine.

2. Pixlr

For users that do low-level image editing, the Pixlr Editor offers a free, browser-based photo editing tool for Chromebooks. Pixlr Editor comes from Pixlr, who also makes editing tools for mobile.

The app has the standard editing tools—red eye reduction, spot heal, filters (you have got to have some filters), and level adjustment. It doesn't have the horsepower you get with Photoshop, but it has everything the average user would need to edit a profile pic or create a meme.

"Pixlr Touch Up offers a plug-free experience—it’s a lightweight, always-on and auto-updating, browser-based app. The app includes all the essential editing tools, including crop, resize, rotate, effects & fonts, enhance color, liquify, adjust contrast and more," said Pixlr community manager, Eric Suesz.

Pixlr Editor can open PSD files or users and copy and paste from the clipboard. It's easy to get started with and it works quickly.

3. Numerics Calculator & Converter

The Numerics Calculator & Converter is a calculator for math and data nerds that can be used by ordinary people. It can work offline and it has a variety of options for customization.

One of the most impressive aspects of this app is the option for users to create their own custom functions using JavaScript. If you aren't script-savvy, the app still offers a robust calculator and converter tools to make work easier. You can use function such sine, cosine, and tangent, and the app will even store your calculation history.

As a converter, it works surprisingly well. Users can do conversions for measurements, temperature, and currency, among other things. The keypad is large and easy to see, and the UI is well-designed too.

4. Wunderlist

If you are like me, the quality of your workflow is contingent on the lists you make. With Wunderlist, you can create beautiful task and to-do lists that are synced across all of your devices, as long as you have a Wunderlist account.

I'll admit it, I'm shallow; and I tend to judge apps (and most software) based on the way they look. I say that because Wunderlist looks great. It is well designed and easy to use, and it makes life simple for users who work across different platforms and ecosystems. You can sync your lists between a Chromebook and an iPhone, and share them with friends.

The app has been around for a while, so a lot of the kinks have been worked out. Users can designate background images for list and set specific badge notifications for alerts. Wunderlist is the "Old Faithful" of to-do list apps.

5. Feedly

Chromebook users who are looking to collect and digest content more fluidly should look no further than Feedly. Available for free in the Chrome Web Store, Feedly lets users aggregate the content from other sites into a personalized interface.

"The web is a constantly updated wealth of knowledge and information that can help people perform better at what they do, but content discovery is often at the mercy of robots and algorithms. Feedly empowers people to connect to the sources of information they care about and access that content as it arrives. That's why Feedly is the content discovery and reading platform of choice for professionals," said Josh Catone, content and community manager at Feedly.

Much like Wunderlist, Feedly has been around for a long time. The Feedly app for Chrome will appear as a clickable icon that will take you right to your Feedly page. The minimal design and magazine-like interface of Feedly are its main selling points.

The app works by collecting data from RSS feeds and organizing for the user on their Feedly page. It was also one of the main tools users moved to after the closing of Google Reader. Although Feedly is free to use, they offer a pro version, for $5 a month or $45 a year. Catone said Feedly pro, "has better search functionality, faster content updates for smaller sources and integration with a growing number of useful services, including Readability, Pocket, LinkedIn, Evernote and Hootsuite."

6. Clipular

No good apps list would be complete without a screen capture tool. Clipular lets users clip images they find on the web, organize them, and save them to their Google Drive. I'm usually a proponent of the using the standard lasso tool that comes with your OS, but Clipular offers some unique extras.

After clipping an image on the web, users can edit it within Clipular and share it on social media by dragging it to the icon of their preferred social media site. The tool saves the source link and text with each clip, and users can go back and annotate or search their clips based on source links or text.

So, whether you are clipping a weird Facebook comment or a frame from a YouTube video, Clipular gives you the tools to make it happen and keep it organized.

7. ShiftEdit

ShiftEdit is an online Integrated development environment (IDE) for Chromebooks. Think about it as Wunderlist for developers in the sense that you can develop across platforms.

"The goal of ShiftEdit is to supplement and eventually replace desktop IDEs. The project is in a similar vein to other web apps such as Gmail and Google Docs, which allow you to seamlessly pick up where you left off from one device to another. ShiftEdit is primarily geared towards web languages such as HTML5/ PHP/ Ruby etc.," said Adam Jimenez, developer and founder of ShiftEdit.

The goal of the product is to give developers the same experience, regardless of OS, without having to install software or create site definitions. ShiftEdit has an autocomplete features that is compatible with HTML, CSS and PHP functions; and they support a variety of server types. ShiftEdit is free in the Chrome Web Store, and it also has offline capabilities.

8. imo messenger

For a standard IM-type chat, the Google+ Hangouts extension works well. But, for users who are looking to integrate chat from sites such as Facebook, imo messenger is a great option. Users can share pictures, text, and video with friends on imo, and there is also the option for browser-to-mobile video calls.

You can run multiple chat sessions at a time and the mobile app works on Android and iOS. If you have a session open on one device, you can have the same session open simultaneously on another device. So, if you are chatting with a project manager and need to keep chatting on your way to lunch, you can do so on your phone (just make sure someone else is driving).

9. Quick Note

Check out Quick Note for simple note-taking and lists. The design is reminiscent of the previous legal-pad style notes app in iOS, with lined yellow pages available for notes. The app is simple and clean, and users can access notes across Chrome devices if they are registered at Diigo.

There's really not much else to say. Quick Note is a great app for note-taking and it will help you stay organized.  

10. WeVideo

WeVideo is a video-editing app for Chrome that has three different editing modes to accommodate beginners and experts alike. Users can drag and drop media files into the video timeline and add a title or theme from the app.

"WeVideo is the only true cloud-based offer for the mobile and cloud generation which is device agnostic and provides an adaptive interface allowing creators to move easily between different levels, based on their experience and familiarity with video editing," said CEO Jostein Svendsen.

The app connects to DropBox and social media accounts so users can easily pull pictures, video, graphics, and music files that were already uploaded. Users can take turns editing each others clip libraries through Google Drive and when you are finished you can publish to Drive or publish straight to social media.

The app supports eight languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Russian, Japanese and Arabic. WeVideo is free but it costs money to export each video, ranging from $0.99 to $1.99.

Also see

About

Conner Forrest is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. He covers Google and startups and is passionate about the convergence of technology and culture.

5 comments
AGLN22
AGLN22

For a real desktop feel, you can also look at Ericom AccessNow, an HTML5 RDP client that enables Chromebook users to securely connect to any RDP host, including Terminal Server and VDI virtual desktops, and run individual Windows applications and full Windows desktops in a browser.

AccessNow does not require any client to be installed on the Chromebook.

For an online, interactive demo, open your Chrome browser and visit:
http://www.ericom.com/demo_AccessNow.asp?URL_ID=708

Please note that I work for Ericom

Gisabun
Gisabun

This is a reason why it will be stuck in places that need basic internet access: you need to install things just to get similar basic functionality that is in any other OS right now.

I beg to differ on using it in the enterprise when there is no central management.

Of the numerous people I am in contact [professionally and personally] no one I know has one [I'm talking about 100+ people]. Not scientific but it shows you that this hardware isn't for everyone.

jsargent
jsargent

@Gisabun  The hardware is just fine. Just format the disc and put Ubuntu on it ;) That's what everyone I know who bought Chromebooks did.

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