ChromeOS is a workhorse packed with conveniences, and its Linux container is stable and reliable
Why a Chromebook
Chromebooks are affordable, secure, and reasonably light weight, that makes them ideal for travel because if it gets lost, damaged, or stolen, you’ll be in a much better place than if it happened to an expensive laptop. In addition, the modern Intel i3 series processors are quite powerful. I regularly do software development work on an i3 Chromebook and it keeps up without hesitation.
Chrome OS is Linux. Severly locked down Linux, yes, but that’s what makes it secure. Additionally, “Crostini”, the un-locked-down Linux container that can be enabled in Chrome OS, is out of beta, and it’s very good. You get Debian by default when you enable the Linux container, but you can swap it out for another distribution with relative ease.
I’ve attempted this transition a few times before and while there was a lot to like it wasn’t quite ready for prime time, but I’m happy to report that all of the issues and gripes I had have been resolved at this point in time.
- ✔ Dark theme
- ✔ Linux containers officially supported and reliable
- ✔ No more outdated Debian, many modern distributions available
- ✔ Reliable and built in backup/restore functionality for Linux container
Ease of use. As someone who swore off Windows when it became more buggy than Linux, and swore of Apple when they started selling 3+ year old hardware priced as if it were cutting edge (to Apple’s credit, I think they’ve stopped that practice, but I’m already out the door), it’s fantastic to use on OS that just works. I still rock Linux on my desktop machine, but my laptops now sit collecting dust.
The ecosystem. Is it as good as Apple? I wouldn’t know, but it’s quite good. My Android phone is well integrated into Chrome OS, and more importantly I can get up and running on a new Chromebook with very little effort.
- Your files are all right where you left them thanks to Google Drive.
- All your Chrome and Android apps, and most of your system settings are backed up automatically (apps pinned to the shelf, WiFi networks, and printers, to name a few), so they will be restored automatically.
- You can easily restore a backup of your Linux container, which includes the entire container and everything that was installed and configured, so everything is just as you left it.
That last point is amazing, since most of the work I do is in the Linux container, I run monthly backups (both backup and restore can be done in the Chrome OS system settings with the click of a button), and upload them to Google Drive for safe keeping.
The apps. You have the entire Google Play Store library at your fingertips, and Linux apps! Simply install any Linux app and the launcher will auto-magically show up in the Chrome OS app drawer, you can run it as if it was installed natively on Chrome OS.
The performance. Chrome OS is lightweight while still having nice aesthetics, the UI has been steadily improving over time, and most models have stellar battery life.
Things to Consider
The obvious big complaint here is software support. This doesn’t effect me at all though, since I abandoned Windows long ago, and with it my Adobe and Pro Tools subscriptions. I’ve found free and open source alternatives that fill the roles of those apps quite well.
Disk space and memory. The unfortunate standard for Chromebooks is 4GiB of RAM and 64GiB to 128GiB of disk space (often eMMC, which is basically just a soldered down SD card). On the bright side, there are some models with higher RAM capacity and NVMe SSDs that can be upgraded (the RAM is usually soldered in, so don’t count on any upgrades there).
The hardware is, decent, that’s the compromise for the price. But even that has gotten better these days, in the case of my current model the keyboard is actually really good, and the trackpad is flat out fantastic considering it’s not even made of glass. My only complaint is the plastic body, but even so it feels plenty sturdy.
What Chromebook am I using
I am rocking the 2021 Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i, which sports an 11th generation Intel i3 CPU in a very affordable package. The keyboard and trackpad are both very nice to use, it’s reasonably slim, and weighs just over 3 pounds. The only thing lacking is storage space, but we can fix that thanks to the replacable NVMe SSD.
Make sure you create a recovery USB for ChromeOS before you replace the SSD, you can use the Chromebook Recovery Utility to make one. You’ll need a Torx bit and guitar pick to get the back cover off, there aren’t any hidden screws, so you don’t have to rip up the rubber feet which is nice.
After replacing the SSD, insert the recovery USB, then hold down the Escape and Reload keys and tap the power button to install Chrome OS on the new SSD.