Chromebooks: The smart person's guide

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about Google's Chromebooks and Chrome OS.

Image: Google

With every passing iteration of technology more and more of the things we use most move to the cloud. Google knows this, and its G Suite allows users to create, edit, and store documents safely and securely online.

Chrome, Google's market-dominating web browser, has also turned into an operating system that's unique to Chromebooks. These budget laptops running Chrome OS are cloud-powered bargains that can help everyone get work done for a fraction of the cost of a MacBook or Windows laptop.

TechRepublic's smart person's guide about Chromebooks is a quick introduction to these laptops, as well as a "living" guide that will be updated periodically as new models and features are released.

SEE: Check out all of TechRepublic's smart person's guides.

Executive summary

  • What are they? Chromebooks are laptops powered by Google's Chrome OS, an operating system based on the Chrome browser. Chromebooks are very affordable and are built around G Suite, Google's online cloud services.
  • Why do they matter? Cheap laptops running Chrome OS can be easily deployed to students or employees, allowing the machines to be very valuable to the enterprise world. Since most Chromebook work is done in the cloud they're a much lower security risk than typical laptops.
  • Who do they affect? Chromebooks have the potential to affect anyone who relies on the cloud or web apps for most of their work.
  • When are they happening? Chromebooks have been on the market since 2011, and in 2016 they surpassed sales of macOS devices.
  • How do I take advantage of Chromebooks? Chromebooks can be purchased directly from Google and at stores like BestBuy; enterprise solutions are also available.

What are Chromebooks?

Chromebooks are any laptop that, under license from Google, runs the Linux kernel-based Chrome OS. Chrome OS is incredibly lightweight, drawing almost all of its interface from the Chrome browser. It also supports Chrome apps, and as of late 2016 will be the only platform to get new Chrome apps.

Chromebooks are manufactured by a variety of vendors, such as Google, HP, Acer, Samsung, Dell, and others. They range in price from the mid $100 range to over $1,200 for the Google Pixel. Educational pricing is available as well.

Android apps are slowly becoming available for Chromebooks too. As of this writing there are still only a few machines that have access to the Google Play store for Android, but the list continues to grow. Google plans to make Android apps available to all Chromebooks in the future, which will make them even more practical and useful.

You can see the full list of Chromebooks that can run Android apps on the Chromium Projects site.

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Why do Chromebooks matter?

Chrome OS is incredibly lightweight, and so are the machines that run it. They can be updated easily, wiped with minimal effort, and are inexpensive enough to be easily replaceable.

Schools and businesses are both making use of Chromebooks because of how low maintenance they are. Businesses that use G Suite can make even more use of Chromebooks: integration is simple and instant because users log in with the same Google account they use for work.

As Chrome OS continues to evolve and become more practical for everyday use Chromebooks will matter more and more. They have the potential to be cloud-based thin client laptops, potentially disrupting portable computing as we know it.

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Who do Chromebooks affect?

Chromebooks can affect anyone who uses a laptop and does a good portion of their work in the cloud. More and more businesses are turning to cloud hosting through systems like G Suite, meaning it doesn't matter what machine the work is being done on.

Chromebooks also affect companies that make laptops and desktops. Chromebooks overtook MacBooks in total sales earlier this year, signaling a shift in computing priorities: the cloud is king and the machine is just a terminal.

If computer manufacturers don't find a reason for consumers to buy their machines over cloud-centric Chromebooks the future might be bleak for their profit margins.

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When are Chromebooks happening?

Chromebooks have been on the market since 2011, but it's just in the past few years that they've gained momentum. School districts and enterprises are adopting them rapidly, and new features make them even more enticing.

The biggest feature coming to Chromebooks in the near future is the addition of Android apps, which will likely increase sales even further.

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How do I take advantage of Chromebooks?

Chromebooks are meant for people who already make use of Google's suite of applications. While G Suite use isn't a prerequisite for owning a Chromebook it makes getting up and running much easier.

Chromebooks can be purchased at retailers like BestBuy right now, or online directly from Google. Don't dive into a Chromebook before doing your research, though: the market is huge and features vary greatly. Google has a guide for finding the right Chromebook and it's worth going through to find the one that will work best for you.

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About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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