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chromebooks-2014

What are Chromebooks? And why you don’t need Windows any more…

You must have seen ads of a device called Chromebook on TV. It has been the #1 best selling device on Amazon.com for the last two years. So what is it? What’s a Chromebook and how different is it from traditional Windows PC? Is there any advantage these devices have over traditional PCs?

What’s Chrome OS?

The central part of Chromebook is the operating system that powers it. Hardware wise, it’s the same hardware that runs Microsoft’s Windows or Apple’s Mac. It’s the OS which separates it from the rest. Chrome OS uses the Linux kernel, the same kernel which is being used by Android, Amazon Kindle, B&N’s Nook. Linux powers stock exchanges, NASA’s missions and a lot of other things that you may not have imagined. More or less Linux is like the plastic of the modern world – it’s everywhere. Before we go into details, let’s quickly explain what is a kernel as people get scared the moment they hear the world Linux.

The basics of Chromebooks

Every OS needs a kernel; Microsoft uses their own NT kernel as well as Mac uses Mach kernel. Chromebooks use Linux kernel. Unlike Mac or Windows kernel, Linux kernel is developed by millions of developers from around the globe and funded by billionaire companies. Since it’s developed by the open source community in public, it is extremely secure and safe compared to Windows as bugs are spotted and fixed immediately.

Kernel is the first layer of software on top of bare metal like CPU, RAM, and all the hardware there is in a system. On top of the kernel sits the operating system and then there is a layer of applications that you and I use. We never use the kernel or the OS, we use applications like the browser, movie player etc. The OS allocates resources to these applications – such as access to CPU, GPU, Keyboard, monitor, etc. And it’s the kernel which works as a phone operator between the OS and the hardware, so it’s the kernel which enables the operating system to talk to RAM or GPU.

So a kernel is very important. That said it also means you never see or deal with the kernel or the operating system, you just have to worry about the applications you use. Now having explained kernel, let’s see what else is there in Chrome OS?

Let me ask you which is the first application that you open when you boot into your PC? The probable answer is the browser – it could be Firefox or Chrome. That’s what Google has done with Chromebooks – they have put a browser at the center stage and you can do all your work from within the browser. A Windows systems comes with a bloat of software which most of us never even use. All we use on a Windows system is mostly the browser, or the word processor. But more and more people are moving to Google Docs due to ease of use, cost and back-up where you won’t lose any data whenever Windows go crazy. So what Google has done is removed all that unnecessary bloat which a majority of users never actually use and create a system which does what most of us do.

Chrome OS is extremely ‘slim’ and ‘slick’, extremely light weight – fully optimized for online activities. But is a Chromebook for you?

Depends on what you do on your computer. I will give an example of my wife who was a Mac user, then I converted her to Ubuntu and now she uses the Chromebook. And you know what? Her complaints have come down to zero ever since she switched to Chromebooks. So something is working right for her. So what does she do? Most of her computing is online. She checks her Facebook, all the time. She video chats with friends, she works on her office documents and spreadsheets. She watches Netflix and plays some games. She listens to music and does almost everything else that most of us do these days.

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If these are also the things that you do, then you are a Chromebook user.

Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.