What is a Chromebook and how it works explained

A Chromebook is Google’s answer to the traditional laptop. Where most traditional laptops run using the Microsoft Windows Operating System, or the Apple MAC OS Operating System; the Chromebook runs using the Chrome Operating system. We'll take a closer look at what the Chromebook is and how it works.

The Chromebook explained

When the Chromebook was first launched in 2011 many of the reviews were not impressed with how the Chromebook worked. Looking back it shows the people writing the reviews for the Chromebook did not have the forward-thinking vision that Google had. Many of the articles were critical on how the Chromebook would survive, and this is understandable being that it was a huge change from the traditional laptop.

We fast forward six years and the Chromebook is a huge success, and for the first time in America, it outsold the Apple Mac in the last quarter of 2016. The Chromebook has also shown a huge success in the education market wherein 2016 the Chromebook had 58% of the education market in the USA. The Chromebook is now becoming ever more popular in the UK with sales also at a record high. These are pretty remarkable statistics considering the Chromebook was not given much hope of survival in the first few years after launch.

In this article, we explain how the Chromebook works, the advantages, and disadvantages of using a Chromebook, so you have a clear understanding of what a Chromebook is and how it works.

It looks just like a laptop

The Chromebook looks very similar to the traditional laptop and works very much in the same way for certain tasks like internet surfing. The main difference is the operating system that it uses ‘Chrome’, which is vastly different to the more traditional laptops that run on the Microsoft Windows and Apple MAC OS.

You Surf the internet in the same way

When you surf the internet whether using a desktop PC running Microsoft Windows or a Chromebook you do so using a browser. Therefore, surfing the internet on a Chromebook is exactly the same as surfing the internet on any other computer. The difference being that you use the Chrome browser to do this, and being that most people use the Chrome browser on their desktop PCs as well, means surfing the internet will be a very familiar experience.

Chromebook Explained - Blue Asus Chromebook
Chromebooks are manufactured by many manufacturers - This stylish blue Chromebook is by Asus

The difference between a Chromebook and a Windows or Mac-based laptop

The Chrome Operating System that the Chromebook uses has been coded by Google from the foundations upwards, and the very success of the Chromebook is due to the speed of the Chromebook, how secure the Chromebook is, and the ease of use. This makes the Chromebook an extremely appealing option for the silver surfer, as you can surf the internet without having to know how to fix an Operating System when it goes wrong. Anyone who has ever owned a Microsoft Windows-based PC will know how frustrating it can be when things do go wrong.

It boots up in seven seconds

From the second you press the power button the Chromebook takes just seven seconds to boot up ready to use. There is no waiting for the Operating system to catch up on itself; it is ready for use almost instantly.

The Chromebook also stays like this no matter how long you have the Chromebook for. If you compare this to a Microsoft Windows-based machine, where it works fine for the first few months, and then gradually gets slower and slower over time; until one day it decides to stop working for good.

It’s the most secure Operating System – You don’t get viruses

The Chrome Operating System has been designed with security in mind, and this means you end up with an extremely secure laptop. So secure in fact, that you don’t need anti-virus software.

The Chromebook is designed to get automatic updates, and these updates are automatically installed when your Chromebook is turned on, or you are asked to update the Chromebook during use. These updates take seconds to install, and the Chromebook is ready for use again. These updates mean you can surf the internet safely, as any security concerns found on the Chrome browser can be addressed almost instantly, and any virus threats are of no concern.

Another reason why Chromebooks do not get viruses is because you cannot install programs on a Chromebook, and viruses are held within executable files. The fact the Chromebook does not allow or need executable files means it’s impossible to get a virus.

You cannot install software programs on the Chromebook

This is one of the main factors that originally gave the Chromebook bad reviews. It was extremely difficult for people to understand the point of a Chromebook if you cannot install programs onto it. However, when you consider most people use their computers to surf the internet, then the Chromebook is perfect, and it doesn’t bring along all the issues you have with a typical based laptop running Microsoft Windows or MAC OS.

When Google launched the Chromebook they were looking at the future, where installing programs on your computer will only be done by a small percentage of the population. This is because technology has advanced dramatically in the last few years, and what you once could only do by installing a program on your computer, you can now do by visiting a website on the internet.

The Chromebook uses apps instead

Instead of installing programs onto a Chromebook you install apps very similar to a phone or tablet. There is a difference however, the apps you install on a Chromebook don’t install anything on the computer itself. Instead, the app is linked an internet address and the application runs directly off the internet. There are many apps you can download for your Chromebook from the Google Chromebook app store. You would be amazed just how much you can do from a website compared to what you can do when installing software onto a computer.

Apart from the third party apps that are available; Google also create their own apps, which you may be already familiar with because these apps work on any computer, tablet or phone; and they also run on any operating system. However, these apps have been designed to work with the Chromebook flawlessly. One of the most successful apps Google provides is Google Docs. Google Docs includes a word processor and a spreadsheet, which means, you can still type essays or number crunch on a Chromebook just like you would on a traditional based computer. The only difference is you work from a web address, and all your files are saved in the cloud using Google Drive.

Chromebook Explained - Chromebook apps
The Chromebook app store provides many different apps you can use on your Chromebook

The Chromebook does not have a hard drive

It may sound a little crazy when you imagine a computer without a hard disk. However, when you consider the Chromebook does not install programs, and all the programs you use are internet based, then it makes more sense. All Chromebooks come with a Solid State Drive (SSD), which is a hard disk without any moving parts. The size of the SSD is generally around 16GB, which may not sound like a lot of space, but with no programs to install, it’s perfectly fine for anyone who needs to download PDF files, for plane tickets, as an example or any other document you may wish to download to edit or view.

All of the files that you download are visible in the file manager, which is similar to a file manager you would have on Microsoft Windows. These files are automatically placed in a folder named ‘downloads’, and you can leave these files on your Chromebook for as long as you like; the only limitation being the 16GB of space you get from the Solid State Drive. Some Chromebooks come with more than 16GB, but Google tries to discourage manufacturers from providing too larger drive, as it goes against their vision of cloud computing.

The Chromebook works perfectly with Google Drive

It’s no coincidence that Google also created Google Drive, which is a cloud-based file storage system, and they definitely had the Chromebook in mind when it was launched in 2012. Again, Google Drive is available to anyone, whether they are using a Microsoft Windows PC, Android tablet, phone, Apple MAC or Apple phone. Google Drive is easy to use no matter what the device you’re using it with, but it works seamlessly with the Chromebook and they both complement each other.

Because the Chromebook and Google Drive work together perfectly, saving files you create on your Chromebook are easily saved to Google Drive. This was one of the visions Google had when creating the Chromebook, and that vision being everyone will work from the cloud in the future. Google Drive together with the Chromebook shows just how easy this can be. Google Drive is perfectly integrated with the Chromebook that you’ll not even realise that you’re saving files to the cloud, as it works just like how you would save files to your Hard Drive on a more traditional based computer. Moving files from your download folder on your Chromebook to Google Drive is also easily done, which means you never need to worry about running out of space on your Chromebook.

You don’t need to worry about backing up files

When you start using a Chromebook and realise how well integrated it is with Google Drive it will become second nature to use both hand in hand. The fact that Google Drive is cloud-based means you never need to worry about backing up your valuable files, as they are stored in the cloud. So should the worse happen, and you break your Chromebook; you can still access your files from Google Drive.

To use a Chromebook you need a Google account

If you’ve ever used an Android tablet or phone, or you use Gmail as your email provider then you already have a Google account. If you don’t already have a Google account then they are extremely easy to set-up and are free. They come with Gmail, which is arguably the best email provider on earth at the moment, and it also comes with Google Drive. Google Drive comes with 15GB of space for free, which is a very good deal when you compare it to other cloud services. You can also upgrade to more space, and the prices for doing this are very reasonable.

Chromebook Explained - A slim black samsung Chromebook
A super thin elegant looking Chromebook by Samsung

What you cannot do with a Chromebook

If you are a serious PC computer gamer then don’t buy a Chromebook if you’re expecting to play games on it. The Chromebook has not been designed to play computer games, and the best you’ll get are games available in the Chromebook app store, which are similar to what you get on a mobile phone.

You need to remember that you cannot install programs on the Chromebook either. So if you’re looking to install any type of program, then you need to look elsewhere. Before doing this, you may want to check the Google Chromebook app store to ensure a similar program you’re looking to install isn’t available from visiting an internet web address. For example, you can use graphic programs on a Chromebook, as there is plenty of graphic based applications that run from an internet web address. All Google Chromebook apps work with Google Drive, which means you can easily save work that you work on, whether that is a spreadsheet or a new logo you created using a graphics application.

If you’re an Apple lover and use iTunes, and are not prepared to move away from iTunes; then the Chromebook may not be right for you. Unless you have another way of accessing iTunes, you should not rely on a Chromebook, as iTunes is a software program, which you install directly onto your computer. This doesn’t mean if you love music a Chromebook doesn’t have an option for you, as you can use Google Music on a Chromebook because this application works from an internet address. There are many benefits to using Google Music, which we’ll discuss in a different article.

Although I’ve mentioned that you may be able to find graphic-based programs to use on a Chromebook, you shouldn’t expect to find graphics programs made for the professional. So if you use Photoshop or Fireworks then you are unlikely to find an internet based graphics program that is as capable as these professional applications. Similarly, if you’re into video editing then you should avoid using a Chromebook for such a task. These types of programs are huge, and cannot be run from an internet address.


The Chromebook is a great alternative to the traditional laptop, and once you’ve used a Chromebook it is unlikely that you’ll not fall in love with how easy it is to use. This is what makes the Chromebook so successful, it offers web surfing from a laptop without any of the issues you get from using an operating system such as Microsoft Windows or MAC OS.

The Chromebook does have limitations, but these are massively outweighed by the good things owning a Chromebook brings. The Chromebook is still evolving and Google works tirelessly on improving the Chrome operating system it runs from. I have a great love for the Chromebook, as it offers the user such a pleasurable experience you simply cannot get from other types of computers. Sure, it cannot do everything for everyone, but for the majority of people who surf the internet, or type the occasional essay, it’s perfect.


Last modification: Sat 20 Oct 2018

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