From Windows to Chromebook
My old laptop had not aged well. It was slow and getting slower every day. I needed a new one, but my budget was tight. In every electronics store I went to, there would always be at least one Chromebook. They were slim, elegant, and considerably less expensive than the PCs. But reading the tech specs did give me pause – could a device with such a tiny amount of memory really be any good?
I finally decided to take a chance on an Acer Chromebook 11. There were a few differences between my new Chromebook and my old Windows laptop, but nothing that was too difficult to understand. I´ve come to love my Chromebook, and I don’t know what I’d do without it.
Google introduced the first Chromebooks in 2011. They were intended as an affordable, faster, more secure alternative to traditional computers. Sales of Chromebooks have been increasing every year, especially in K-12 schools.
Would you like to make the leap from Windows to Chromebook? First and foremost, keep in mind that Chromebooks are a Google product; therefore, you will be encouraged to become part of the Google ecosystem.
How Do I Log In?
On older Windows systems, each user would get their own local login name and password. On modern Windows systems, each user logs onto their Windows devices using their profile from Microsoft.com.
On Chromebooks, the login is the same as your Google account – your Gmail address and password. After the initial setup, you can also log on by pairing it with an Android phone. Click on Settings | Show advanced settings…
Check the box by “Enable Bluetooth,” then turn on Bluetooth on the Android phone. Once both devices have found each other, scroll down to Smartlock for Chromebook and click the button that says “Set up.” Now your Chromebook will stay unlocked as long as your Android phone is within 100 feet.
What if you need to lend someone your computer, but you don’t want them to have access to your files, accounts, and browsing history? Just like Windows computers, Chromebooks have guest accounts.
What Kind of Hardware Does It Have?
Chromebooks all use solid state drives; meaning, a drive without moving parts, much like a flash drive. Since solid state drives don’t have moving parts, they generate less heat and require less power. Solid state drives also require less physical space, resulting in a smaller, lighter computer.
Most Chromebooks have 16GB of hard drive space, which is best reserved for apps and system updates. All Google Drive accounts come with 15GB of storage space. Google offers an extra 100GB of free cloud storage for two years after the purchase of your Chromebook. After your trial period, this will be $1.99 per month.
For those who want an alternative to cloud storage, it is possible to use flash drives and external hard drives. Any device that is compatible with a standard USB port will work with a Chromebook.
This is the keyboard of my Chromebook, the Acer Chromebook 11. It’s somewhat different than a standard keyboard. The top row contains keys that are exclusive to Chromebook.
- Previous Page – goes to the previous page in your browser tab history
- Next Page – goes to the next page in your browser tab history
- Reload – reloads the current webpage
- Full Screen
- Switch Window
- Decrease Brightness
- Increase Brightness
- Decrease Volume
- Increase Volume
As you can see, there are less keys than the keyboards you may be used to. There are no Caps Lock, Delete, or function keys. To make up for this, there are keyboard shortcuts available as substitutes. To turn on Caps Lock, press the Alt and Search keys at the same time. To do the equivalent of a right click, press the Alt key, then touch the touchpad. For more shortcuts, see this list provided by Google.
If you need special characters, like accented letters, you can change your keyboard settings. Click on your profile picture in the bottom right corner to open the Settings menu. At the bottom of the screen, click the link “Show advanced settings.” Click on Language and input settings. Under Input settings, choose US international keyboard.
All Chromebooks have at least two USB ports (one as 2.0, one as 3.0), a HDMI port, and an SD card reader. Every Chromebook has a touchpad, but it is always possible to connect a mouse through USB. It is possible to connect a USB DVD-ROM drive, but only in read-only mode; you can’t create files on a blank CD or DVD.
For further information, see this list of all compatible file types and external devices.
Chromebooks do have USB ports, but they cannot directly connect to a printer. In order to print documents off a Chromebook, you will need to use the Google Cloud Print service. Google´s servers act as intermediaries between the Chromebook and the printer.
If your printer is not on the list of Cloud Ready Printers, you have what Google calls a Classic Printer. You can still use it, but the printer in question must be connected to a Windows or Apple computer, either physically or via Wi-Fi.
What Kind of Software Can I Use?
Since Chromebooks are a Google product, you will be steered towards using Google Docs. But what about Microsoft Office? Unfortunately, Office 365 is not compatible with the Chrome OS. As for older versions of Microsoft Office, they simply wouldn’t fit on the small hard drive. However, you can save and download Google Docs as their Microsoft Office equivalent file types:
- Google Doc – Word (.docx)
- Google Sheet – Excel (.xls)
- Google Slide – Powerpoint (.ppt)
Want to edit photos and graphics? Photoshop is not available, but there are online substitutes – Canva and Pixlr.
Canva is an online graphic design service. It comes with dozens of templates for social network posts and documents, photo filters, and many images and fonts for use. The free version of Canva lets you create two folders for your files and save two custom colors for your brand. Canva for Work provides additional features: the ability to save default fonts, uploading fonts created by other designers, and uploading custom logos. This version of Canva costs $12.99 per month.
Pixlr is a family of photo and image editors. The two apps available for Chromebook are Pixlr Express and Pixlr Editor. Pixlr Express offers simple effects such as borders and overlays. Pixlr Editor is a full-featured image editor, offering a wide variety of filters, the ability to create layers, and transform objects.
Music and Movies
Almost all your favorite music services are available, from Spotify to Tidal. Unfortunately, there is one notable exception – iTunes.
You can’t install iTunes on a Chromebook; as of this writing Apple has not made iTunes available for the Chrome OS. However, you can add all of your purchases from iTunes to your Chromebook, using a Windows or Apple computer and the cloud.
As of this writing, there is no reliable way to watch movies on DVD through a Chromebook. DVD playback requires a codec – software that encodes and decodes a data stream; this is not yet available for the Chrome OS.
How Can I Try Chromebook for Myself?
Going from Windows to Chromebook doesn’t have to be a difficult transition. Both types of OS have slightly different ways of accomplishing tasks, but there are more similarities than differences. If you would like to try one for yourself, you can find a few models at your local Target, Best Buy, or Walmart. You can also buy one from the Google store or from one of the following online stores: