My daughter’s school is equipping all the children with Chromebooks that run something called Chrome OS. I run Chrome on my PC. How are they all related? Are they all from Google? Is ChromeOS any good?
Let’s start with the most basic of definitions; Google Chrome is a popular Web browser available for lots of different operating systems, including Windows, MacOS, and Linux. Chrome OS is built atop Chrome and adds basic operating system features and functionality so it can replace the operating system on the device. A Chromebook is a computer that runs Chrome OS (instead of Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, etc).
I have been running Chrome OS on various Chromebook systems from HP, ASUS, and Lenovo for many years, and it’s pretty darn solid at this point. The latest release of Chrome OS is version 101 and it frequently upgrades with new features and capabilities. At this point, it’s surprisingly similar to Windows and particularly easy to use if you’re a PC fan.
To put these releases in a historical context, Google Chrome was first released in September, 2008. Chrome OS was first released in June, 2011, and the first Chromebooks hit the market in February 2013. Suffice to say, it’s all been around for a while now.
WHY DID GOOGLE CREATE CHROMEOS?
The motivation behind Chrome OS was to create a free and simple operating system that could run on inexpensive hardware to lower the cost of deploying it across schools and other institutions. Built atop Linux, it was also intended to be easier than Windows, but it’s definitely succumbed to what techies call “creeping featurism”. It’s not so simple anymore, but it’s definitely more powerful and far more flexible than when first released by Google.
We also can’t talk about Chrome without talking about Chromium, the open-source version of the Web browser. It’s a rather complicated ecosystem at this point and making it even more surprising, Microsoft’s terrific Edge Web browser is built on Chromium! That’s why Edge and Chrome seem so darn similar if you’ve tried them both on your computer.
You can even install Chrome OS on a PC if you’re curious how it works, though you’ll actually be installing Chromium OS which is the open-source version of Chrome OS. Learn more at www.chromium.org
The long and short of it is that Google has done something rather remarkable: They’ve built the most popular Web browser on the Internet, then leapfrogged into creating an entirely new operating system and inspiring some of the best hardware manufacturers in the world to develop laptops dedicated to their Chrome OS. Nicely done.
Pro Tip: I’ve been writing about operating systems for many years. You can learn a lot more about Chrome OS in my Chrome OS and Chromebook help library here on the site. Why not check it out while you’re visiting?