ChromeOS is unfairly typecast by some as an uninteresting operating system with minimal app support. This is entirely false. While it’s true that ChromeOS is incredibly lightweight and without a lot of frills on the surface, there’s a ton of app support with excellent web apps, Chrome extensions, Android apps, and Linux apps available. With these apps, you can do just about anything, whether you want to play games, edit photos, or even develop new apps.
Whether you’re brand new to ChromeOS or a seasoned veteran, it’s always fun to try out new apps on your new Chromebook. There’s something for everyone.
How to install web apps on ChromeOS
Web apps on Chrome come in a few different flavors. There are traditional Chrome Web Apps you can download from the Chrome Store. These are largely going out of style as the majority of web apps move to the Progressive Web App (PWA) standard.
The good news is all web apps are quite easy to install. Even if you want to use a browser-based app that doesn’t have a traditional PWA to install, you can easily turn it into an app interface by creating a shortcut. Here’s how.
- To install traditional web apps, simply click on the three dot menu in your Chrome browser.
- Choose Install XYZas illustrated in the screenshot above. For web apps that don’t have an install option, simply navigate to More tools, and choose Create shortcut. From here choose the option to Open as window.
- This creates a shortcut with an app icon you can find in your launcher. It’s also available to pin to your dock.
Best web apps on ChromeOS
Now that you understand what a web app is, we’ve collected a few of our favorites below.
If you’re looking for a cloud-based storage solution on ChromeOS, Google Drive is the default choice. With Google Drive, you get tight integration with ChromeOS and a simple interface across all of your devices. There’s also an Android app for Drive, but the PWA feels spacious on a Chromebook.
Taking notes or saving links is a breeze with Google Keep, another excellent Google app that feels more natural on a Chromebook in web app form. You can organize lists and doodles, and sync it all across devices. Google Keep also supports dark mode as a web app, so you won’t need to burn your retinas while using it.
The best option for running Microsoft Office on a Chromebook is via the Microsoft Office 365 web app suite. Microsoft no longer allows you to install the Android version of Office on Chromebooks, so this is the go-to way to get Office on ChromeOS. You can use Office for the web in your browser to create, edit, and collaborate on files from your Chromebook. This approach also feels very natural since your Chromebook was built for cloud computing.
Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote are all present as web apps, as are Outlook, OneDrive, Skype, People, Calendar, Sway, and Forms. All of these web apps have limited free functionality, but you’ll need to pay for a Microsoft Office 365 subscription to get the full feature set. If you’re a student or teacher, you can likely get Office 365 for free through your school or university. Anyone can also get a free one-month trial of Office 365.
Those planning to use the web app approach to Office should consider adding shortcuts for the web apps to your app drawer. You can also pin them to your shelf if you want Office just a click away. There’s also a nifty Chrome extension for Microsoft Office, allowing even easier access right inside your browser.
There are numerous choices for streaming music on your Chromebook. Pretty much every music streaming service has a PWA — Spotify, Apple Music, and even Tidal. But YouTube Music is a compelling option for Chromebook users due to the tight connection with Google Services.
Skype runs perfectly on a Chromebook via the Microsoft Skype web app suite. You can use Skype in your browser to send instant messages and make video calls with ease. This approach also feels natural since your Chromebook was built for cloud computing.
Skype is always ready to provide the full experience even if you don’t have access to your phone or desktop app. Simply log into web.skype.com and get down to business with a fully functional Skype in-browser application. It provides all your favorite features, and it’s available in one click.
A popular myth is that ChromeOS has virtually zero options for photo editing. There are actually a number of quality web apps that can help in the photo department. Pixlr is perhaps the most beautifully designed and offers familiar features for those who use Photoshop. You get the ability to use layers, wand, lasso, mask tools, and more.
Best Chrome extensions for ChromeOS
Chrome extensions are the last bastion in the fight for survival for native Chrome apps since they all use native Chrome libraries and API. With extensions, you can basically add mini versions of an app in the top-right corner of your Chrome browser. The operability of extensions can vary by the intended use case, and some web apps or Android apps may have their own Chrome extension as well.
Google Keep is a prime example of a web app that also has an extension. It allows you to save websites to your notes as you navigate in the browser. Let’s take a look at four other useful options.
Caret is probably the best professional text editor on ChromeOS for programmers, especially if you program in a variety of languages like Java, C++, or Python. You get highlighting for syntax-specific sequences in each language, and there are multiple themes to choose from. If you’re switching to ChromeOS, this might be your new favorite text editor.
Screencastify is a great tool for teachers and professors at the high school or college level. You can record your screen with picture-in-picture webcam support. This app is perfect for lectures or general tutorial videos if you make YouTube videos. Unfortunately, you need a subscription fee for videos longer than 5 minutes. You can still use the app for free while recording longer videos, but they’ll be watermarked.
Cog-System info viewer
ChromeOS makes it relatively difficult to get basic information about your Chromebook’s hardware — RAM, CPU cores, etc. It’s possible, but the information is buried and doesn’t have a nice graphical UI like Windows or macOS. Cog is an extension that solves that problem by giving easy access to your system information whenever you want.
You’ve probably used DocuSign at some point in your digital life. It’s very common to receive official documents for digital signing, and DocuSign is the leader in this area. With this Chrome extension, you can send documents to request a signature, sign documents within Google Drive, and save copies for future viewing.
Best Android apps for ChromeOS
Before we jump into our list of the best Android apps for each category, note that not all Android apps are optimized for Chromebooks. Most popular social media, productivity, and media apps are optimized, but there are rare exceptions. It’s easy to tell if an app is not optimized for Chromebooks; you’ll notice the app still runs in a window the size of a phone screen.
The majority of the apps discussed below are optimized for ChromeOS. You can also check out our full guide to Android apps on ChromeOS for more tips and suggestions.
This is of the most-used messaging apps in the world, so chances are high you already use this app on your phone. Well, you can also use it on your Chromebook. In addition to messaging, you can also make phone or video calls within the app.
While there are several third-party Twitter apps on Android, they’re mostly hampered by Twitter’s API restrictions. Because of this, the official Twitter app is still the way to go for Android or ChromeOS. Follow your favorite conversations and participate in polls or group DMs. All the latest Twitter features come to your Chromebook with this Android app.
Pretty much everyone uses Netflix these days. If you have a Chromebook, chances are you want to stream some of your favorite shows on it. Check out award-winning series, movies, documentaries, and stand-up specials on Netflix with the mobile app. You can also download media for offline viewing.
VLC Media Player
Streaming is great, but sometimes you want to play content you already own. VLC media player is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player that plays most multimedia files as well as discs, devices, and network streaming protocols. One of the most versatile video apps out there, this is a must for your Chromebook or ChromeOS tablet.
Lightroom is a photo editor with a fairly intuitive interface. If you’re not quite ready for the endless options in Photoshop, Lightroom might be the app for you. Easy image editing tools like sliders and filters for pictures simplify photo editing. Retouch full-resolution photos, apply photo filters, or start photo editing wherever you are. Experiment with and compare photo edits without losing the original and pick your favorite look.
Adobe Photoshop Express
Professional creators need the power of Photoshop on the go, and Adobe’s Photoshop Express app for Android puts that power on your Chromebook. Photoshop Express delivers a full spectrum of tools and effects at your fingertips. Remove noise, instantly correct crooked images, or just use this pro tool to make sweet memes for Instagram.
For podcast enthusiasts, Pocket Casts is the best podcatcher you’ll find on Android. Lots of premium features and a beautiful user interface make this one of our favorite apps on Android, period. If you spend a lot of time listening to podcasts, the trim silence and skip intros feature will help you get straight to the content in each episode.
Best Linux apps for ChromeOS
Linux apps are a bit more complicated to install on ChromeOS, but you get access to desktop-class apps. If you’re new to using Linux apps on your Chromebook, check out our full guide to Linux apps on ChromeOS for an installation tutorial. Below are three of the most powerful professional desktop apps you gain access to with Linux.
GIMP is a full-featured photo editing suite, similar to Photoshop but without the high price. If you’re a graphic designer transitioning to ChromeOS, you’ll find that GIMP is an indispensable tool. The functionality and file types are precisely aligned with what you would expect in other photo editing software. There are many advanced tools like layers, lasso, and brushes to keep advanced users satisfied. GIMP is much more powerful than web apps or Android apps for photo editing capability. If you need a desktop photo editing app on your Chromebook, this is the only way to go.
sudo apt-get install gimp -y
For the creators out there, you might need a nice app to record or edit audio. This is an advanced audio editor and recorder that comes in handy when playing around with various audio files. Audacity has a lot of features that allow you to create your own unique tracks or remix other songs. There are also many plugins available for Audacity that can help you connect to equipment and other audio programs. Overall, this is the best audio editing app you can get on your ChromeOS device — and arguably on any device.
sudo apt-get install audacity -y
Video editing is a big deal these days. Millions of people upload videos to YouTube, Twitch, and Tiktok every hour. If you’re serious about video editing, moving to ChromeOS can be a bit scary. Thankfully, Kdenlive is a nice video editing program for Linux that can run on your Chromebook. Those of you that are used to running Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro will pick up the intuitive interface in no time.
It’s worth noting that while Kdenlive does run well on ChromeOS, you’ll need a fairly powerful Chromebook to take full advantage of this app. Those using Kdenlive for serious video editing should get a USB-C dock to connect with an external monitor and other peripherals.
sudo apt-get install kdenlive -y
As you can see, ChromeOS has quite a rich variety of software to choose from. While you don’t install every app locally on your machine, that doesn’t stop your Chromebook from getting the job done. Your Chromebook can do anything you want, with the right mix of web apps, extensions, Android apps, and Linux apps.
Hopefully, you found something useful on our list, but don’t stop there! Go out and explore the Chrome Store, Google Play Store, and the world of Linux apps on your own.