I’ve been seriously considering buy a Chromebook for my kids to use at home recently, but wanted to check whether the kids can get on without Windows before buying a new laptop – so here’s how to try it before buying anything.
Chromebooks use an operating system from Google called ChromeOS, which is mainly based on the Chrome browser. It can’t run Windows applications (or Android) – it can only run web sites, or Chrome Extensions and Applications which you usually download through the Chrome Store.
There are a few advantages of Chromebooks – everything is stored in the Cloud. For instance you can’t use Microsoft Office, you’d use Google Docs instead, where files are saved on Google Drive. If you don’t have Internet access, you can use Google Docs in offline mode – for instance you can create new documents without problems.
Google Docs is by and large, compatible with Microsoft Office. I’ve been using it for a couple of years and only really complex documents with advanced use of images and tables give problems (and are usually overcome by using a different method on Google Docs).
If you need to edit a spreadsheet or document at the same time as another person, or a whole group of people, Google Docs is far better than even the latest version of equivalent Microsoft products (including SharePoint handling the synchronisation).
For kids who have grown up using tablets such as iPads, Google Docs feels more natural. When was the last time you saw a ‘Save’ button in an iPad app? All changes are saved automatically. And this applies to Google Docs as well. My kids at home struggle with Microsoft Office because they keep forgetting to save files – they expect it to happen automatically.
The only drawback I can think of with not supporting Windows apps, is Skype, which isn’t available in web site-only mode. One alternative is to use Google Hangout, Google’s own video conference tool. Advantages of hangout are multiple videos (on Skype you have to pay for multiple video users), and you can save a Hangout straight to a YouTube video without messing about with a video file.
Another advantage of Chromebooks is that the operating system can’t get viruses. And because nothing is stored on the laptop itself, it shouldn’t slow down. ChromeOS updates are released every 6 weeks or so. These updates are installed automatically, which makes the maintenance of the laptop far easier.
Finally, Chromebooks are £199 on the High Street, including Google Docs. A Windows laptop will cost at least another £50, and then Microsoft Office costs around £90 per year.
I recommend you at least take a look at a Chromebook. If you haven’t seen one, here’s a simple, free way to try it out using the Chrome browser installed on Windows 8 or 8.1.
From the Chrome menu on the top right, select “Relaunch Chrome in Windows 8 mode”.
You will now see a full screen experience which is very close to ChromeOS – and as time goes on, this will become closer and closer to Chromebooks.
Menus behave slightly differently, Chrome apps can be placed on the bottom ‘shelf’ (the equivalent to a Windows taskbar). Right click on icons on the shelf and you’ll see options of how to ‘start’ each application.
You’ll notice the speed of the browsers will improve.
To minimise windows, hover over the maximise icon on the top right, and you’ll see a few options appear – minimise and maximise to the left or the right side of the screen.
Try using Google Docs and other applications in this mode to see if you miss any of the functionality from Microsoft Office.
If you can get on with it OK, you’ll find a Chromebook is ideal.