Chromebook cheat sheet: How to get started

JR Raphael2019-03-07 11:00:00

The beauty of Chrome OS today is its versatility: The operating system supports a huge range of applications in a variety of different formats — web apps, progressive web apps, native Chrome apps, Android apps, and even Linux apps (gracious!).

That’s enough to make anyone’s head spin. As a result of that platform-defying setup, though, Chromebooks can now handle all sorts of advanced productivity tasks and are viable far beyond their original web-centric focus, when the concept was quite literally just a “browser in a box” — a full-screen Chrome window with no desktop, nothing resembling a traditional app, and next to no options to consider.

But with power comes complexity, and — you guessed it — the weakness of Chrome OS today is that very same versatility. With so many types of apps and so many sources for software, it’s almost impossible to know where to begin and how to get started on your Chromebook adventure. And that’s to say nothing of figuring out the finer points of the operating system and how to optimize the environment for efficiency.

The interface itself may still be relatively minimalist, compared to other operating systems — with its customizable dock (the “shelf”) for holding frequently-accessed programs, its scrolling app drawer (the “launcher”) for finding everything else installed on a system, and its Android-reminiscent settings and notification panel — but beyond that unassuming surface, there’s actually a fair amount going on.

JR Raphael/IDG

The main Chrome OS desktop doesn’t have much, but the launcher’s search function and the docked icons in the shelf make it easy to access everything you need. (Click image to enlarge it.)

For a platform once touted for its simplicity, things sure have gotten complicated. But they don’t have to be daunting. Follow this carefully crafted guide to getting started with Chrome OS — both finding the right apps from the right places and getting your system organized for optimal efficiency — and we’ll have you up and running with a custom-tuned setup in no time.

Step 1: Figure out what apps you need — and where to find them

The first step is simply to decide what software you need on your Chromebook — what apps will most effectively help you get your work (and non-work) accomplished. Make a quick list of your essentials: What app or service do you prefer to use for email? Do you need an app for chatting with colleagues? What about project management? Image editing? Note taking? Word processing and other office work?

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