If you’ve been a part of Chromebook history for a long time, you’ve probably heard of the three pillars at the core of the Chrome OS experience: speed, simplicity and security. From the jump, Google had a vision of computing that put these three things first and foremost, so that they could steer the ship and set course when needed, as Chrome OS has undergone 89 6-week updates to this point. Have they always done things perfectly? Of course not, but they have done a good job of letting these three pillars drive ongoing changes in an ever-growing operating system that has become far more capable than it was 10 years ago at launch.
As we all know from life experience, the more capacity you add to something, the more clutter and complexity follows. It’s the same with software and hardware: the more features, settings and capabilities our Chromebooks get, the more vulnerable they become to getting stuck in all the complexity needed with all the benefits. Take disagreement as an example. If you have not used it, I highly recommend it as a chat app and productivity tool for teams or groups. We use it for internal communication and for our Patreon community, and I love that. But when it’s time to set up a new room, a new rule or a new role for a user, you quickly notice that Discord has acquired a wealth of features and capabilities over time that have cost simplicity. It is very full-fledged, and the user interface is sometimes lost in the weeds of all that ability.
I would say that we are approaching that reality with Chrome OS as more new capabilities emerge. Some would argue that the moment Android apps appeared, we already got there. Chrome OS purists (I’m like myself for a few days) love the speed, simplicity, and security offered by an operating system that was launched as nothing more than a web browser. There is a lot to say about whether the web apps are easy / fast, the security of not having much technical installed and the simplicity of a computer that just gets the job done and gets out of the way.
But I must also trust that purism and admit that many times an Android app has gone in and filled a hole in the Chrome OS experience. The inherent security is still in place, and although it is not as easy as their online counterparts, the speed is still quite high as well. Google has managed to include Android in the equation without sacrificing two of the first pillars of Chrome OS (speed and security), but I do not know that we can say the same about simplicity. With many Android apps not working well, confusion about which app is Android vs. PWA, various app stores and other small annoyances, Android apps on Chromebooks do not feel exactly simple, do they?
And now we have the Linux container that is secure and works well, but again only misses when we talk about simplicity in Chrome OS. To be fair, Linux is aimed at developers and not the general public, but it still adds a layer of complexity that simply did not exist. We also have Parallels and their Windows container to run Windows apps on Chromebooks, and again, while this is still secure and reasonably fast, it’s far from easy. Then add to the ‘Borealis’ container that will house a custom Steam game layout, and the story is much the same. We keep speed and safety right in front, but it feels like it takes the back seat to handle all the increasing complexity. And we’ve not even started with all the new native Chrome OS features like Phone Hub.
This is good news for simplicity in the Chromebook
When we look at things from this perspective, it can feel a bit like we’re losing the simple, streamlined Chromebook experience we’ve all loved so far. It can feel like Google is losing its way. I get it, but to be honest, I do not think about this increasing complexity as often because I love watching Chromebooks grow into more full-fledged tools. However, I know that many of you out there are desperate to keep things clean and simple, and I understand that too. But it’s very good news for all of us as Chromebook users that is quite unique to Chrome OS and a rather special feature of these computing devices. You can just turn it all off.
That is correct! As Chromebooks continue to expand their capabilities through custom containers, you can simply opt out of the whole thing and just keep running Chrome OS just like you always did. You do not need to use Android, Linux, Windows, Steam or any other container provided. Chrome OS lets you – the user – decide which parts of this new complexity you want to take advantage of or just leave on the side of the road. It’s up to you how much of this new capability you want, and it’s a very refreshing impression on an operating system. If you do not want Android apps, just open the settings, go to Apps> Google Play Store> Remove Google Play Store and you can make it disappear. Do not want Windows, Linux or Steam? No worries! Just do not turn them on.
For me, I leave Android apps on, I skip Linux most days, I have long moved on from the need for and Windows applications, and I am really looking forward to ‘Borealis’, Steam games and Tiger Lake Chromebooks that will run them well. Do these add-ons make things a little less simple? Secure. But I’m fully aware that I can simply turn everything off if I choose, and so can you. Even some of the more elaborate new features like Phone Hub can simply be skipped if you do not want to mess with it, and that’s a beautiful thing. Chrome OS is growing and growing fast. More custom containers will come, more capabilities will be added, but as long as Google continues to let us all decide which ones we use and which ones we skip, the promise of simplicity is always there, and that’s one of my favorite parts of using one. Chromebook.