How to use a Chromebook: 10 must-know tips, tricks, and tools for beginners

When Google first introduced Chromebooks in 2011, it seemed like a ridiculous idea. A laptop that can only run a browser? Who wants that? But over time, web apps slowly became more powerful and capable, while Google steadily improved the Chrome OS experience. Soon, many newer Chromebooks will also run Android apps.

All of this means the Chromebooks of 2017 are nothing like that original experience. Today, Chrome OS feels like a modern operating system that offers a near desktop-like experience. It can satisfy the needs of almost every user, with the notable exception of those who need video or advanced image editing.

If you set your Chromebook up right, that is. Let’s get that done.

1. Get to know the system

chromeosdesktop Ian Paul/PCWorld

A Chromebook desktop with Chrome OS 56.

Chrome OS has some basic similarities with other desktop systems. Just like Windows, Linux, and OS X, there’s a desktop area that you can customize with your own background image. But unlike the desktop in other systems, you cannot place any files here. It’s merely a visual space where you can arrange open windows.

When you open an app—which are mostly websites on Chromebook—it will open in either a new window or a tab in the main browser. Open windows can be resized or split to take up half the display like in other systems.

You’ll probably notice right away that your keyboard has a search icon where the caps lock key should be. This search key is a way to get at all the apps contained on your system. Tap it and a window opens with a search box, and below that you’ll see several apps. Click All apps to get a view of everything you have available.

chromeosfilesapp Ian Paul/PCWorld

The Chrome OS Files app in version 56.

One system-critical Chromebook app that is not a website is Files. This is the Chrome OS file manager that lets you access files saved on your system, view the contents of a ZIP folder, or access items in Google Drive.

The last point of interest in our system tour is the lower-right corner of the taskbar-like shelf, called the system tray. (More on the shelf later.) The first thing you’ll see is a small counter that tells you how many notifications you have. Click it and you can view and clear your notifications.


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