Make Ubuntu Work Like ChromeOS

Ubuntu can function like ChromeOS – yet still maintain all of Ubuntu's advantages.

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Posted December 12, 2016
By

Matt Hartley


It might surprise some of you that with a little effort, you can make Ubuntu work like ChromeOS. Best of all, you can do so and still keep Ubuntu's advantages. In this article, I'll share some tips and thoughts on how you can run Ubuntu with similar features to those found in ChromeOS.

ChromeOS apps vs Ubuntu software

ChromeOS relies exclusively on the Chrome browser access for extended functionality. Anything that can't be visited as a webpage, must then be an extension for the Chrome browser. On the surface, this is fine. But it can also be frustrating. Consider this – what if the extension stops working or a change to ChromeOS breaks that extension's functionality? This is the problem with relying exclusively on web apps.

Local applications on modern Linux distros like Ubuntu allow us more choice and control. Choices like the ability to use multiple programs to edit a document or, if I prefer, use a word processing web app instead. With a Linux installation, users are in the drivers seat and will have far greater functionality than they will with web apps only.

Let's take a look at some of these apps and see about finding non-Google alternatives for an Ubuntu Linux installation.

Make Ubuntu Email work like ChromeOS

ChromeOS is tied pretty heavily into Google's Gmail. Sure, there is nothing stopping you from using other web email services. However you will find the shortcuts provided with ChromeOS are centered around services that share Gmail's credentials.

The best alternative is to use a web mail alternative to Gmail. For those of you who are feeling adventurous, perhaps hosting your own Roundcube email server is an option. For the rest of us, I suggest Protonmail. I like Protonmail because it's open source, easy to use and surprisingly future-proof! If you want to use Protonmail with your own domain, no problem! That option is available.

One downside when getting away from Google is that cloud storage is expensive. Protonmail isn't going to offer you anywhere near the storage available with a free Gmail account.

Make Ubuntu Documents work like ChromeOS

When you first turn on a ChromeOS device, you're presented with access to Google Drive or as I prefer to call it, Google Docs. This is basically a web app that provides you with word processing, spreadsheet and presentation tools.

On Ubuntu, you're given a local installation of LibreOffice. But what about if you want to have a Google Docs like experience instead? For this task, I think it's a tough call between Zoho Office and NextCloud. ZoHo makes sense for anyone looking to duplicate the Google Drive/Docs experience. Zoho will give you 5 GB storage for your documents free, then you can upgrade if you so desire.

Make Ubuntu file syncing work like ChromeOS

On ChromeOS, your files are always in sync without any extra effort on your part. This means they're synchronized with Google servers. And this is great – if you plan on using Google exclusively. The obvious downside is that your local disk space is pretty limited. I suppose this isn't a huge issue if you plan on using ChromeOS as a limited tool for web browsing and related tasks.

Using Ubuntu like ChromeOS, however, opens up some interesting opportunities. It allows a user to sync up their data with the "cloud" while still having the ability to have a larger hard drive. The missing feature by default is the cloud syncing functionality. To accomplish this, I recommend using a tool called Osync. What makes Osync useful is that it can be synced with Dropbox, Google, among other cloud services.

Equally helpful, you can use Osync to keep things in-sync in real time. Basically by running the software as daemon. If this isn't something you wish to do, you're free to run it via cron on a schedule. Personally I think running this with Dropbox or AWS using the daemon makes the most sense. Now, it's important not to sync you're entire home directory using Osync. Instead, I'd concentrate on syncing documents, pictures, and configuration files. This alone, will allow you to restore your browser and extensions easily when reinstalling Ubuntu.

Make Ubuntu photos work like ChromeOS

Now I'm going to take a non-Chrome-like stance on this. Because we're syncing things up with Osync, there is absolutely no reason to tie ourselves up with a web-based photo manager. Instead, I recommend using gThumb. It's a simple, lightweight photo manger that works great.

If you need something more robust and don't mind using KDE libraries on your Ubuntu install, then Digikam is also a fantastic option. The real secret here is that you have a choice and the apps are locally installed. Another advantage to using Ubuntu is that GIMP is readily available. This means not only can you manage your photos, you're also free to manipulate them as well.

Best of all, there is no dependence on bandwidth to do this stuff. The only time the Internet comes into it is when you sync the saved files with your cloud provider.

Make Ubuntu video work like ChromeOS

When creating and managing videos on ChromeOS, you're limited to what Chrome can find on the web or some random extensions. Usually this means using YouTube. Don't get me wrong, YouTube is a fine video host...however their editor is extremely limited. And so are other web based video editors.

Like with photos, I suggest taking a non-ChromeOS approach to video editing. Using Ubuntu, you can use locally installable video editors like OpenShot or Kdenlive. Heck, if you're willing to fight your way through the user interface, even Lightworks is available to you. And again, like with photos, your edited videos can be synced up to the cloud automatically with each new file saved.

ChromeOS needs to be more like Ubuntu

As I bring this article to a close, one thing really sticks out in my mind. ChromeOS could really stand to borrow more from the Ubuntu side of the fence. As a matter of fact, I think people get more value from Chromebooks by installing Ubuntu directly onto them.

ChromeOS is a neat operating system. But I have a difficult time getting my brain around how limited it is in some areas. What say you? Do you think that it's worth it to make Ubuntu more like ChromeOS? Perhaps instead, it's more beneficial to make ChromeOS, more like Ubuntu. Share your thoughts in the Comments section.




Tags: Linux, Ubuntu, ChromeOS


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