I am writing this on a ~2009 Thinkpad X301 that I refurbished into a Chromebook. I have never bothered with Chrome OS before, but now I must say I am very impressed. It is fast, responsive and just works. By default it is a light weight web client, but can be extended to meet the needs of power users.
Windows 10 has trashed a lot of hardware recently. It can be too demanding for computers just a few years old, as it keeps on churning background tasks (Updates, app store updates, virus scans, who knows what...), making the system laggy and unresponsive. Linux is better in many ways, even though I recently mythbusted the so called light variants. Chrome OS is Linux, but Google and open source contributors have been able to optimize it in some way as the end result outperforms "traditional" distributions.
Meet Neverware CloudReady
So Chrome OS is open source, based on the Chromium project. New York based startup Neverware has made a business out of providing their fork of Chromium of for educational institutes, refurbishing old laptops into Chromium based class room PCs. The product is known as CloudReady, which is available for free for home users.
Visit Neverware.com for more details and downloads.
CloudReady comes as a bootable USB image file. You flash it to your stick using Chromebook Recovery Tool, or with dd if you are coming from Linux. Stick it into your target PC and boot from USB. Test that everything works and if you are happy with it, click on install from the system tray menu.
- CloudReady install wipes the whole harddrive clean.
- If you have UEFI-based Windows 10 installation, you can dual boot.
- It is possible to install a Linux distro afterwards as dual boot, but you may need to do some manual Grub tinkering (Haven't tried this yet).
At first you will feel stoopified by the super simplistic user interface, but it runs very responsive and fast. Nowadays there are quite a bit of useful apps available in the store. By default your main tools are Google's web services, which allows light spread sheet calculations, word processing to name a few, and of course the cloud storage provided by Google Drive. But nothing is stopping you from using Microsoft's Office Online either.
Chrome app store has games, photo editors and all kinds of useful stuff availble. Web admins appreciate the availability of an SSH-shell. And power users can even install Ubuntu or Debian Linux inside the Chrome operating system, if you need more powerful tools for creating content or developing software - check Crouton, which is used even by some Google devs.
Some CloudReady FAQs:
Is my laptop compatible?
Most standard hardware is. Boot the live USB media and test. Neverware has certified over 200 different PCs, but it will work on many others as well. Chromium/Cloudready is currently based on Linux kernel 4.4
Will Netflix and other DRM-enabled video services work?
Yes, Netflix, Hulu and others do work, but you need a very easy workaround.
Can I use Android apps on CloudReady?
Currently no. But Neverware has said that if Google open sources the relevant pieces, it is not totally impossible in the longer term future.
How do I update the CloudReady?
Neverware delivers updates over the air, and your system is always up-to-date. Chrome OS aims to be a zero maintenance system.
Google released the Chrome OS a little early. The world was not ready for a web first operating system back in 2009. But they did not quit and things look very different in 2017. The world is very much web and cloud centric and you can do a whole lot more without standalone offline applications. Chromebooks have reportedly outsold Apple computers in the USA during 2016 and the educational scene is their primary target market. Now with the emerging Android support, the whole Chromebook / Chrome OS concept is the most interesting thing happening is desktop/laptop computing.
Go bleeding edge with Chromium OS
CloudReady aims for stability and updates are not too frequently distributed, thus they are couple of steps behind Chromium OS development. If you want to go hardcore and explore the most recent developments, then check out Arnold The Bat's Chromium OS builds. He even provides special builds with added hardware support.