False Advertising: Chromebook edition

Posted: Tuesday, May 14, 2024 at 9:40AM

Oops, accidentally published this without finishing it, so here goes:

After being somewhat vocal about this one a while ago, I still keep seeing this issue where I work.

I think the reason why is for two reasons: 1. Chromebooks do cost less than normal computers of the same spec level. And 2. The advertising involved isn’t too honest about what they are.

What are Chromebooks?

So to dumb it down a bit, Chromebooks are a laptop computer which their operating system (OS) is a locked down version of Linux that opens a Google Chrome web browser that happens to have a taskbar, and that’s it. Hence the name “CHROMEbook.”

Some of the newer ones can access the Play Store and install Android apps, but even that can be limited if developers of the desired apps hadn’t optimized it for such an environment yet.

Their limitations

Chromebooks are limited in a number of different factors. I’ll start out with a small list:

  • No OS Shell - Even though ChromeOS is Linux based, it locks users out of any sort of settings or shell. Which makes it very difficult to do things on the OS level, like installing printer drivers or software.
  • Locked Controls - A lot of the settings in Chromebooks themselves are locked. Including much of the printing workflow (so if you have an older printer which doesn’t support Chrome direct printing out of the box, you’re SOL), choosing what apps open which filetypes, etc.
  • Online Only - A lot of the apps available for ChromeOS are Online-only or webapps. Which means at the very least they lose a lot of functionality if you have to venture offline at all.

Now if you understand what their limitations are, they’re not horrible. The issue is that users who aren’t tech-savvy enough to learn what the limitations are or about different operating systems, they won’t know the difference. They’ll buy one expecting that it will do anything a “normal” or Windows computer can.

The Advertising

Now the issue I have with them isn’t the limitations that they have, but the fact that Google advertises them in a divisive way, probably intentionally, so that they can sell more faster. Most users are going to see the ad below, expecting that it will work for their college campus experience, at a university heavily invested in a mostly-Microsoft solutions base.

Google Chromebook ad “Do more than you thought you could”

What most people are not going to do is scroll down through 7 pages of hype to read the footnote to realize that its comparison which is “1 When compared to top selling Chromebooks from July 2022 to Dec 2022.”

So it does “more than you thought you could” if your only “computer” is a nearly two year old Chromebook.

Day to day

Regularly I see people buying Chromebooks expecting them to work for what they need it to. The issue is, in the context that I normally see this happen in; we can’t get the print driver (which can only be compiled in Windows and Mac) to work, using Microsoft Office is iffy because they can only used web based versions of it, sharing through Google Drive/Docs doesn’t work well with our Microsoft email accounts, some curriculums require Windows-only software; which all of this combined gives the students effected a bad experience.

As much of a pain as it is to run Windows software on a Macbook, I’d rather have 10 students show up with Macbooks than Chromebooks. Reason being is at least there’s some way to get Windows software to work, even if one has to be setup with Parallels or UTM.

Heck, even if a student showed up with a slightly old computer running Garuda Linux, even though technically I’m not supposed to support that; virt-manager can be installed which can host a big enough Windows environment to get the one or two pieces of software to work within it. As long as the laptop has 16+ GB of RAM.

The point is, even on literally any other PC Operating System there’s usually some way to get some sort of Virtualization or even a compatibility layer like WINE or Proton to work on it and at least get some degree of Windows-Only software to work on it.

Linux gamers do it all the time.

Not only that but the price of Chromebooks, especially with the addition of the Chromebook Plus line, they’re almost as expensive as similar Windows computers anyway, so what would be the point in buying one. Even though Windows is slowly becoming Online-only, at least there’s some availability of offline software. Microsoft isn’t locking out that functionality, at least not yet.


Until Google starts being honest and putting a disclaimer like “There is no supported way to get Windows or Mac software to work on this thing” on all of the Chromebook listings, I won’t stop being vocal about this. It’s not fair to users who don’t know enough to research differences between Operating Systems.

Chromebook refund with binding arbitration

And if they were unlucky enough to buy one from a manufacturer or retailer with binding arbitration clauses, they might get a measly partial-refund for having an experience so poor that it could cause them to fail an entire semester of college.

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