Chromebooks changed my life. But I had to change my life in order for my life to be changed.
What the heck does that mean? It means that in order to allow Chrome OS to change my life, I had to make a few changes myself. Chromebooks are fast, secure, and super easy to use. Basically the complete opposite of a Windows or Mac machine. But Chrome OS had to make some sacrifices in order to achieve these inherent benefits, which means you may need to make some sacrifices in order to take advantage of those benefits. Namely, they sacrificed the ability to install apps/drivers. This means that Chromebooks are limited to apps that utilize web technologies, called “Web apps”.
Web apps are apps that use web technologies. Most web apps open in your browser, like Gmail or Pandora. But some of them look and feel like native apps, when in reality, they’re just web apps opening in their own window.
Note: You can actually achieve this “native” look with any app on a Chromebook. Just right click (two finger-tap) on an app, and select Open as Window. Then, open the app. You’ll notice it opens in it’s own window, instead of opening as a new tab in your current browser window like it used to.
But what does this mean for a Chromebook user? It means that, for instance, you cannot use Photoshop, or iTunes on your Chromebook. This is because Adobe hasn’t written a Photoshop web-app, nor has Apple developed an iTunes web app. So, if you’re going to use a Chromebook, you’ll need to find alternatives to some of your favorite apps, or perhaps just do without altogether (that’s rare. There’s almost always a worthy alternative).
Here’s a list of Windows/Mac apps and alternative web apps that work great on Chromebooks.
There are many different alternatives for Photoshop, depending on what you use Photoshop for.
The most obvious Photoshop alternative is called Pixlr. (www.pixlr.com).
Pixlr is a web based photo editing software that looks and feels a lot like Photoshop (It’s almost a spitting image of the old school Photoshp 7 days).
It’s not going to have all the features of Photoshop, but it has more Photoshop-like features than any other web based photo editor out there. It’s quite robust for a free web app.
Besides not having all the features of Photoshop, the two biggest downsides to Pixlr are:
- The ad. There’s a huge ad on the right-hand side, and so far they have not given us the option to pay to remove it. There is a paid plan, but it doesn’t remove the ad. This is really stupid, and I hope they take care of that soon.
- Fonts. Since Pixlr just uses fonts installed on the device, you don’t have a ton of options. If you’re looking for more creative fonts, you’re going to need to use another app, like PicMonkey.
One of the draw-backs I mentioned to using Pixlr on a Chromebook, is the lack of creative fonts. PicMonkey solves this problem. I often use PicMonkey in conjunction with Pixlr. I’ll create a graphic in Pixlr, save it, open it in PicMonkey, and overlay some creative type.
PicMonkey has a free, and a premium account, however unlike Pixlr, the premium account actually gives you extra features. Features like more fonts, more overlays, touchups etc.
LucidPress looks nothing like InDesign, but is used for many of the same things. LucidPress describes itself as “a design tool for everyone” allowing you to “quickly create and share stunning visual content” for print, and digital.
I’ve used LucidPress for creating PNGs, JPGs, and PDFs. Newsletters, brochures, business cards. I’ve also used it to simply overlay text on graphics I created in Pixlr.
Vectr is similar to LucidPress in that it can be used for creating various layouts. It has the same sort of features, adding shapes and text and borders to things. While not quite as feature-rich as LucidPress, it is very easy to use and has fewer bugs than LucidPress.
Obviously, when talking about Microsoft Office alternatives on a Chromebook, Google Drive is going to come up. While it’s no secret that web based office applications, such as Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides aren’t as robust as the full desktop Office apps from Microsoft, or Open Office, the truth is the vast majority of users don’t need those extra features. Many people would be surprised to discover how far web based office productivity apps like Google Drive have come, and how little they need Microsoft Office.
The fact that office web apps like Google Docs aren’t as feature-rich as desktop applications isn’t really Google’s fault. Microsoft’s own office web apps aren’t any better than Google Docs when it comes to the number of features. It’s a limitation of web technologies – a limitation that is shrinking every day.
Anyways, Google Drive apps are free to use, for anybody with a Google account. Opt to pay $5/month/user, and you can also get a custom email with your domain, and more storage (among some other Enterprise-level features).
It is this web admin’s opinion, that Google Drive is leagues ahead of Microsoft’s OneDrive in terms of usability. Which comes as no surprise, when you consider that Google Docs have been around for 10 years, while Microsoft has been dabbling in real-time collaboration for only a few years.
Google Drive, like OneDrive, is an online storage app, that also comes with a small suite of office apps, including Docs (word processor), Sheets (spreadsheets) and Slides (presentation app). The entire thing is web based, and should work in any major browser. There are also Android and iOS apps.
Google Drive also works seemlessly with Chromebooks. When you sign into your Chromebook, using your Gmail account, your Google Drive account is automatically synced. Meaning, that when you open your Files App (similar to My Computer on a Windows machine) you will see your local downloads (called Downloads) and you’ll also see Google Drive.
This is a very handy feature, as it makes accessing files in Google Drive super easy, without having to navigate to drive.google.com in your browser.
If you already have a Gmail account, then you also have a Google Drive account. Simply navigate to drive.google.com to see your files.
If you don’t already have a Gmail account, it’s free!
If you would like more information about Google Apps for Work (the paid version of Google Drive), go here: https://goo.gl/jvR6jD
OnlyOffice is something that has come a long way over the last few years. My first experience with OnlyOffice was a couple years ago, when someone reached out to me to write a review of their online office suite, called Team Lab. I tried it out, and wrote a review. It was a good program. A little bit of a learning curve is involved, as it has it’s own icon set and layout, but it was fairly intuitive.
Not long after, they rebranded the app and called it OnlyOffice. Today, they no longer seem to have a free option, although you do get to try it for free before you buy.
Like Microsoft, OnlyOffice offers web, and desktop applications. Plus, not only does OnlyOffice offer office apps for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, they also offer project management, CRM, mail server, calendar, contact management, and even a blogging service.
OnlyOffice has very reasonable pricing, at $5/month/user if you choose to pay month to month. If you sign up for a year in advance, it’s $2/month/user, and if you sign up for 3 years in advance, it’s a whopping $1/month/user.
If you’re a business owner, I highly recommend taking the 30 day free trial and seeing what OnlyOffice can do for your business.
While I admit to being rather biased towards Google Docs, when it comes to online office apps, I can’t deny the existence of OneDrive. If you already use OneDrive for work, rest assured that it will continue to work as you’re used to on your Chromebook. You won’t, of course, be able to download the desktop apps, but the online apps will work fine.
Google Play Music:
Depending on what you use iTunes for, there are potentially several different alternatives. Google Play Music is probably the best for a few different reasons.
If you’re coming from iTunes, and you have access to a Windows or Mac machine, you can download an app called Google Music Manager, and that app will import your iTunes collection into your Google Play Music account. This means you can listen to your iTunes music from any device, anywhere you have an internet connection. You can also continue to add to your collection, as Google Play Music has a music store, similar to iTunes, allowing you to purchase music, and subscribe to podcasts.
Google Play Music also has a Pandora-like radio feature available to paid and free subscribers.
They even recently released a Family plan, allowing you share your subscription with family members, which ends up being a heck of a lot cheaper than paying for a separate single account for each family member.
One of the biggest draws for me is that Google Play Music supports Google Cast, allowing me to cast my music to any one of my Chromecasts from my computer, or my phone.
Spotify has been in the music streaming game longer than Google has, and has some neat features for desktop users. Web browser users don’t have as many features, but they get all the essentials.
You can’t purchase individual tracks, or albums with Spotify, you may only stream the music. You can download the music to your phone for offline playback. With the web version, you can’t upload your own music, so you’ll need a Windows computer with the Spotify desktop app to do that (if that’s even still possible. It’s been a long time since I’ve used Spotify desktop).
Unfortunately, Spotify only supports Google Cast via the mobile app.
Amazon Prime Music:
Amazon Prime Music may also be an alternative to iTunes. It has a terrible UI (I mean it IS Amazon) so I don’t really know much about it as I haven’t really played with it much. I have bought a few mp3s from Amazon, which I then uploaded to my Google Music Account, but I haven’t tried their streaming service.
If you’re already paying for a Prime account, you might want to consider making Amazon your new music app, since it wouldn’t require any additional money.
Amazon Prime Music doesn’t support Google Cast.