For some, Chrome OS is not just their chosen operating system, it is their only OS. For others, like myself, using Windows or macOS is an inevitable part of our jobs. Despite how much I love my Chromebook, I can not use it to develop full-scale games, mainly because it is not realistic or inexpensive to compile Unreal Engine on a Linux kernel for compatibility reasons. Not to mention the obvious limitations of most Chromebooks compared to the custom built-in Windows desktop.
For others still, Windows or macOS is still a requirement for their workplace, as some companies simply are not on board with Chromebooks yet. I have seen companies straight up just not investing time and effort in learning if it would be a viable option for them. However, many companies use older Windows software in the form of executable files that are simply not meant to run on Chrome OS. Others still prefer the full-featured Microsoft Office suite or Adobe Creative Cloud as opposed to alternatives or the scaled-down versions of these apps available in the Google Play Store. I can not blame them.
Today I want to go over something I discovered while running the Windows and Edge experiment last week when I wrote Edge, Chrome and the user between articles. While there is always the option of using Chrome Remote desktop to remotely control a Windows computer and use it temporarily, we’ll instead cover how to get the most out of using Windows 10 as a Chromebook user directly which I think it will provide a better experience.
Install and access your Chromebook web apps
Every Chromebook user knows that their apps and web apps are at the heart of the device’s experience. Switching to Windows – even for a short time – can feel quite daunting. Although Android apps are not available on Windows (except for Bluestacks, which is outdated and ineffective), your web applications can be used to give you a more consistent experience across device operating systems. Thanks to the Chrome browser that syncs these for you, you do not have to feel like you have gone back to the Stone Age, and you are not forced to enter URLs in Chrome in Omnibox to navigate the web.
Instead, just open your Chrome browser on Windows 10, open a new tab and in the bookmarks bar at the far left of the window, you will see a colorful square consisting of nine other smaller squares that say ‘apps’. If you look closely enough, you will see that the colors that make it up form a Chrome browser logo, but it’s just a fun Easter egg. If you do not see it, you can also just type ‘chrome: // apps’ and press enter. Clicking on ‘Apps’ will reveal all the web applications from your Chromebook!
Although it is completely impractical to access them here, as they are not exactly searchable, they have low resolution icons in many cases, and they are just large and bulky (Google, please modernize this!) Let’s go ahead and ‘install’ the ones we want to use on our Windows 10 computer. Right-click each icon you are interested in and click ‘Install on this device’. Yes, unfortunately this has to be done one at a time (modernize this too!), But when you are done, you have access to everything directly via the Windows Start button and search. Although Microsoft’s search in my opinion is not very good, it is better than nothing.
Click Start> All Apps> Chrome Apps will also reveal all your web apps. There’s no Chromebook launcher, and it’s probably ugly, but it’s done the job. I should also mention here quickly that if you add new web apps to your Chromebook, they will not sync automatically with your Windows computer – you will also need to install them manually. Remember that you can also right-click on these and pin them to the taskbar or start menu for quick access.
Use Google Drive File Stream
Using Google Drive on a Windows computer, we enjoyed downloading a file, modifying it, and re-uploading it via the browser. Google then moved on to Drive Backup & Sync, which would act much like a local Dropbox folder for all your Google files. However, the old sync tool was pretty crazy, missing many file syncs, and failed to work immediately. Google Drive now offers File Stream for Workspace, which instantly ‘streams’ your files to you instead of requiring you to download them. This forces your Windows 10 device to work much like the Chromebook Files app, and here’s a little secret – it’s available to regular users too! Once you’ve got this setup, you’ll feel right at home with your files while away from your Chromebook. A File Stream icon appears in your notification area, and you can see the progress of your file synchronization and such with a single click.
Force Windows to search Google instead of Bing
Maybe I’m just biased, but as I said in my Edge experiment article, Bing is just, well, how do I put this? It’s just not good. During the time I used it, it returned less accurate and relevant search results almost every time compared to Google Search. No matter how many “Scroogled” ads you’ve seen, Bing just does not live up to my expectations. However, it is important for those who use Chrome OS regularly to have Google search one touch away as with a Chromebook. Having to go to a new Chrome tab and start searching for something adds a few extra steps, so installing the Chrometana Pro extension from the online store will allow you to turn Windows search into a Google search box!
Just be aware that Chrometana is not Chrometana Pro, so be sure to install the latter instead. After doing so, follow the instructions that open in a new tab to download, install, and set up Edge Deflector. If all else fails, you can also uninstall Edge completely from your computer, and despite many people warning me about this or saying it was not possible, that’s what I did, and I do not regret it.
Take advantage of Chrome Alerts and the Action Center
Ever since I started using Windows 10, I’ve been notorious for my hatred of Action Center. For Chrome OS users, this Windows feature is most similar to Chromebook’s quick settings and notification area. If you go to the Chrome Web site settings (chrome: // settings / content / alt), you can enable desktop notifications for each site that you want to send information to when there is something new. This helps bridge the information delivery for your newly installed Chrome web applications.
I also recommend getting acquainted with the Action Center’s quick setting options – it’s a focus mode, most similar to the Do Not Disturb option on your Chromebook. There is also a night light feature, and even a screenshot tool called Screen Snip. Understanding how to use these will help you feel a little less missing when you switch to Windows for work. You can also right-click on any piece at the bottom of the action center and click ‘Edit’ to move them around so that the most useful ones appear at the top when you collapse that area. Here’s how you look at Chrome web alerts, quick settings, and Windows search after doing all of the above:
Send tabs to yourself across devices
When working across the OS, you will sometimes find that you want a particular website to be used on the opposite device. Something you want to read later, or just something you want up to later to take a look at. Chrome’s Omnibox has a new ‘Send to Self’ feature that lets you ping tabs back and forth between devices. The image below on the left is my Windows 10 PC sending a tab to my Chromebook, and the image below on the right is my Chromebook sending a tab to my phone or PC – quite useful! The square icon to the right of the “Send tab to myself” icon is the Dino QR code, which is also quite convenient. Finally, you can use the star icon further to the right to add something to your bookmarks or to your reading list – all of which are synced via Chrome Sync across devices.
Add missing features with Windows Store apps
I know, I know, I’ve knocked on the Windows Store many times before not having nearly as many useful applications as the Google Play Store, and while that’s true, there are some useful tools you can get from it that can transform Windows 10 your experience and give yourself a little more of that Chromebook feel while having to use it instead. Here are just a few of the ones I recommend:
- Files – A beautiful file app that does not look outdated as a standard file explorer (not perfect, but good for most users)
- Twinkle Tray: Brightness Slider – I’m amazed at the fact that Windows 10 for desktop does not have built-in brightness. This solves it!
- Modern Flyouts (Preview) – This adds a modern software volume slider and thumbnail music control center to the system tray.
- TaskbarX – Center Windows 10 Taskbar Icons! Do. This. Now. You can also make the taskbar transparent among a number of other adjustments.
Select which icons to display on the taskbar
Last but certainly not least, you can select which icons appear on the Windows 10 taskbar in the system tray area by right-clicking on the taskbar and selecting ‘Taskbar settings’ When the settings window opens, scroll down and look for’ Select which icons to display on taskbar ‘(it is a link in plain text, not a button). From there, you can turn off things like OneDrive (unless you use it), Skype, Network (access via Action Center instead) and more. Then enable things like Google Drive, Twinkle Tray, and Volume so that the key features you are used to using your Chromebook are front and center.
In summary, none of the above methods will give you an experience that makes you as productive as you would be on your Chromebook. You could almost say that this guide allows you to ‘turn Windows 10 into a Chromebook’, so to speak, but I would say it’s far from what Google has created with Chrome OS. There is also a lot of work to be done to try to emulate Google’s hard work and dedication to the platform. While File Stream is amazing, and certainly a step up from Drive Backup & Sync, it’s just awful to access your Chrome web apps via Windows 10 ‘All Apps’, and the Windows Search functionality is just ridiculous. TaskbarX and EdgeDeflector are good additions, but it just goes to show that Microsoft has gone through the steps to prevent Windows from feeling modern, in my humble opinion.
Windows 10 can be a great tool for creativity and design, but most of you who read this will probably not use it for much more than the obligatory software for daily work. I created this guide as a companion to Edge, Chrome and the user between articles since I already decided to experiment with Windows and Edge this week. I figured it would be useful for you who do not want to feel completely out of your element when moving between devices. While I call this a comprehensive guide, I’m sure there are many other things I can think of to complete the experience, so if there’s something you want to know about transforming Windows to feel more comfortable when you visit from Chrome OS, please let me know in the comments!