What Is the Google Chrome OS?

Google's computer OS is called Chrome OS

Google announced the Chrome operating system in July 2009. They created the system in conjunction with manufacturers, just like the Android operating system. Devices using Chrome OS, called Chromebooks, came out in 2011 and are readily available in stores. 

Chrome OS bears the same name as the Google web browser called Chrome. Chrome is the primary interface for Chrome OS, and both have evolved through the different versions that have been released.

Person using Google Chrome OS on a laptop
Lifewire / Andrea Hickey 

Target Audience for Chrome OS

Chrome OS was initially targeted towards netbooks. Netbooks are small notebooks designed primarily for web browsing. Although some netbooks were sold with Linux, the consumer preference tended toward Windows, and consumers decided that maybe the novelty wasn't worth it. Netbooks were too small and underpowered. 

Google's vision for Chrome extends beyond the netbook, seeing the shift from local applications toward cloud-based ones, like Google Docs. As people moved away from the traditional desktop, the Chrome operating system has become a competitor to Windows and Mac.

Google never considered Chrome OS to be a tablet operating system or something designed for mobile. Android is Google's tablet operating system because it's built around a touchscreen interface. Chrome OS uses a keyboard and mouse or touchpad and it's designed to be a portal to the cloud.

Chrome OS Availability

Chrome OS is available for developers or anyone with an interest. You can download a copy for your home computer, but you need Linux and an account with root access.

If you've never heard of a sudo command, you should buy Chrome pre-installed on a consumer device.

Google has worked with well-known manufacturers such as Acer, Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba. 

Cr-48 Netbooks

Google launched a pilot program using a beta version of Chrome installed on a netbook, called the Cr-48. Developers, educators, and end-users could register for the pilot program, and a number of them were sent the Cr-48 to test. The netbook came with a limited amount of free data access from Verizon Wireless.

Google ended the Cr-48 pilot program in March of 2011, but the originals were a coveted item after the pilot ended. 

Chrome and Android

Although Android runs on netbooks, Chrome OS is developed as a separate project. Android is designed for phones and phone systems, and it's not designed for use on computers. Chrome OS, on the other hand, is designed for computers rather than phones.

To further confuse this distinction, many Android apps run on Chrome OS. This functionality is designed by Google to work in conjunction with the Chrome browser to expand the available applications for Chrome OS by building on Android's foundation. Chrome OS and Android are far from interchangeable, but there's a chance you can run your favorite Android app on a Chromebook.


Chrome uses a Linux kernel. Long ago, there was a rumor that Google planned to release a version of Ubuntu Linux dubbed Goobuntu. This isn't exactly Goobuntu, but the rumor is no longer quite as crazy.

Chrome OS is essentially a modified version of Linux at its core. Some Chromebooks run Linux applications, and others can be modified to install Ubuntu or another Linux distribution.

Chrome OS is designed to provide a separate and distinct experience, entirely different than a traditional Linux distribution. Chrome OS is geared toward non-technical audiences and doesn't require any Linux knowledge or experience to use.

Google OS Philosophy

Chrome OS is designed as an operating system for computers that are only used for connecting to the internet. This means that Chrome OS is usually used for web browsing, streaming video and music, and online document editing. It's also possible to access an existing iTunes library with a Chrome plugin.

This is vastly different than other operating systems like Windows and macOS, which are primarily used on desktop devices and run full programs like MS Office and Adobe Photoshop. Those kinds of programs cannot run on Chrome OS as easily as they can on other desktop operating systems.

Rather than downloading and installing programs on Chrome OS, you run them in a web browser and store them on the internet. These are often called Chrome extensions. While this limits the kinds of programs that can run on the operating system, there are alternative apps made especially for Chrome OS.

To make that possible, the OS has to boot up quickly, and the web browser has to be extremely fast. Chrome OS makes both of those happen.

Some Chromebooks support Android apps from the Google Play Store. If you have a supported device, you can install Android apps on your Chromebook much like you can on an Android smartphone.

Is this OS enticing enough for users to buy a netbook with Chrome OS instead of Windows? Absolutely. Chrome devices are a popular alternative to Windows PCs, especially for simple daily use, like web browsing. Chrome OS is popular in schools and businesses where simple virus-resistant computers for typing documents and accessing the web are ideal.

  • How do you turn on Chrome OS's developer mode?

    To enable developer mode on Chromebooks, press and hold the Esc+Refresh keys and Power icon simultaneously. Then, press and hold CTRL+D > Enter.

  • How do you install Chrome OS?

    Unfortunately, you can't just download and install Chrome OS onto a computer. But, you can get a similar experience via third-party software like Neverware's CloudReady version of Chromium OS. Check out Lifewire's full guide to installing Chrome OS on a PC for detailed instructions on how to do it.

  • How can you tell which version of Chrome OS you're running?

    Select the three dots in the upper-right corner of Chrome OS > Settings > About Chrome OS.

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