In recent months, I've had the opportunity to dive into work flows between your typical Chromebook and an Ubuntu-based PC. This article will offer a comparison of the different work flows between the two Ubuntu and ChromeOS. We'll examine common work flows like printing, scanning, word processing, email, among other tasks.
When using ChromeOS, you have one option for surfing the Web – the Chrome browser. And by itself, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, ChromeOS is dialed in nicely to provide outstanding performance using this browser. Plus, never having to worry about updating plugins like Flash is also a pleasant thing as well.
Ubuntu, however, differs in this area. First of all, Ubuntu users are presented with Firefox as their default browser. For some users, this is perfectly acceptable. But others may wish to explore alternative browsers for Ubuntu instead. Ubuntu has a wide variety of choices in terms of web browsers and each of them present their own unique spin on surfing the web.
The best choice is: It really depends on the user. If you're someone well versed in keeping your system up to date, I'd say Ubuntu wins with flexibility. However if you're someone who is notoriously bad about keeping your browser updated and have no interest in choosing your default browser, ChromeOS is the better fit for you.
When it comes to office tasks with ChromeOS, most people will likely find everything they need. Well, if they're willing to re-think how they do things, that is. Allow me to elaborate a bit here. Email, calendar and a to-do list are all accessible at your leisure using ChromeOS. And if you're already utilizing the Google app ecosystem, using these tools won't be any different than you've done previously.
If you're coming from, say, Microsoft Outlook using Exchange, however...the process requires an export of data into Google Apps. Yes, Google does support dual delivery options for stuff like email. But overall, it's a process that tends to favor export to Google vs a seamless integration between Microsoft/Google ecosystems.
Then we have word processing and spreadsheets. In all honesty, ChromeOS does just fine in this department. The only bottleneck most people will run into is how long it takes Chrome browser to choke through a huge Excel spreadsheet. Outside of this consideration, the only challenge is learning the new layout for Google's spreadsheet application. Word processing with ChromeOS is also just as easy. Create, tweak and save. And despite what you might think, you can indeed work on Google apps even when you're not connected to the Internet.
When performing office tasks on Ubuntu, you once again have far greater flexibility. Not only could you use your favorite browser to duplicate the Google App work flow described above, you can also run completely unrelated applications as well. Out of the box, you're presented with Thunderbird (email), LibreOffice (office suite), among other solutions available from the software repositories. If after trying LibreOffice, you find it to be abysmal for some reason – you do have alternatives. WPS Office, for example, looks and runs almost exactly like Microsoft Office does. If this is important to you, then this is an available option.
Perhaps you're in need of proper MS Exchange integration for your local PIM (personal information manager). Look no further, Thunderbird supports great add-ons for this and Google integration. The only downside I see with Thunderbird in the long run, is that the application's future is a bit of an unknown. It's available in 2016, but Thunderbird five years from now is a bit of mystery.
The best choice is: For the office place, Ubuntu all day long. Even when neck deep into a "Microsoft shop," Ubuntu simply provides for greater integration, thanks to Thunderbird and various add-ons. For an office already using Google Apps as their default, however, I'd say it's a tie as both Ubuntu and ChromeOS will support Google Apps equally.
To be blunt, printing with ChromeOS can be incredibly slow, network speed depending. Not putting blame on the interface. Rather, the fact that I must either use a Google Cloud friendly printer or the Chrome browser to send off a print job over the Internet, then back to my printer is simply stupid. Going even further, cloud print is completely unnecessary as ChromeOS utilizes the same technology for printing as Ubuntu does. The difference is Google managed to convolute it.
To be ultimately fair, however, speed of printing is usually only poor on slow Internet connections. So basically anyone living with a lousy DSL connection, speed caps or perhaps satellite Internet latency/speed issues. In short, you're better off avoiding ChromeOS for any thing in an office environment.
Ubuntu (as do most distributions) has decent printer support. Even if there isn't printer support right out of the box, you can usually find the right software from the manufacturer's website. I love to watch the faces of new users as they see the printer setup page automatically detect their wifi printer simply by choosing "network printer" and waiting for a second. Most new users I find appreciate the idea of avoiding a setup disk for their printer.
The best choice is: Ubuntu wins this one all day long. ChromeOS printing is terrible and needs to be re-tooled in my opinion. For myself personally, printing over ChromeOS is doable as I have a great FiOS connection. But seeing it taking over an hour on slow DSL first hand, has made me cringe on more than one occasion.
Scanning documents with ChromeOS is comparable to printing with it. Short version, it stinks and requires an add-on for the Chrome browser. In short, it's uses some scanning API and a two star rated Chrome add-on.
Ubuntu, by contrast, usually detects scanners automatically. On the very rare occasions where there are detection problems, this link outlines step by step instructions to get your scanner working very quickly. In my case, it happened one time and I merely had to "uncomment" a single line. That was it, things worked great afterward.
Chromebooks have outstanding battery life. I've seen them running 8 to 10 hours without missing a beat. Obviously watching Netflix or the like can significantly reduce those numbers. But regardless, the batteries included with Chromebooks seem to blend well with ChromeOS itself.
Ubuntu (Unity edition) has horrible battery life on even the most bleeding edge, highest capacity batteries. Why power management isn't a priority out of the box always amazed me. Thankfully some Ubuntu spins like Ubuntu MATE offer decent power management out of the box. This is done with a tool called TLP. Using TLP, Ubuntu (or any distro) can detect when you're connected to power or running on your notebook's battery. This feature significantly increases your available battery life under Ubuntu. Going even deeper, you can also make additional changes (and save them) using PowerTOP.
The best choice is: If you're needing a simple web browser on a laptop with great battery life, ChromeOS wins on the Chromebook. Ubuntu with TLP installed is good, but the ChromeOS compatibility with the Chromebook is better. Whether or not you choose to paint this as a hardware vs software issue is up to you.
For most people, I think Ubuntu wins overall. While ChromeOS has some great battery life and offers itself on affordable hardware, the printing and scanning is just too painful to ignore. Even though you're sending a print job over a secure connection to the "cloud," the fact remains the process is painful for anyone with a slow Internet connection.
I also feel like that if someone on ChromeOS doesn't like Google's answer to word processing and spreadsheets, they're largely out of luck. And finally, there is this tidbit of information that I think makes the choice all the much easier in choosing – Crouton. Designed to make installing Ubuntu onto Chromebooks easier, Crouton can actually allow Chromebook owners to experience the best of both operating systems.
What say you? Perhaps you have had different experiences with the two platforms? Hit the Comments and share your story with the other readers. I'd love to hear more about how you view ChromeOS vs Ubuntu work flows.