How-To Geek

8 Chromebook Tricks You Need to Know


Chromebooks aren’t like traditional laptops. While they’re much simpler, they still have various useful features you may not know about. These tricks will help you take advantage of your Chromebook’s true potential.

From accessing remote computers and printing to wiping your personal data, recovering Chrome OS, and installing desktop Linux, these tricks will help you get the most out of your Chromebook.

Control Who Can Log In

Chromebooks are marketed as laptops “for everyone.” By default, anyone with your laptop can pick it up, plug in their Google account, and log in. They won’t be able to access your data, but they will be able to use your Chromebook.

If you want to restrict access to your Chrome laptop, you can open Chrome’s settings screen and control who can log in. Only the Chromebook’s “owner” can do this. The first account you log in to the Chromebook with becomes the owner account.

You’ll find these options on the Settings screen, under the Users heading. You can also use the options here to have Chrome prompt you for your password every time you open it — by default, Chrome will wake from sleep without prompting you for a password. It’s fast and convenient, but potentially insecure.


Access Remote Windows, Mac, and Linux Desktops

You can’t run Windows programs on your Chromebook, but you can access remote Windows, Mac, and Linux desktops. The Chrome Web Store offers VNC clients for connecting to traditional VNC servers, but Chrome actually has Google-built remote desktop features. You can use this to access your desktop PC from a Chromebook or to remotely run that rare Windows application.

To do this, install the Chrome Remote Desktop app in Chrome on your PC. You can then activate the “Enable remote connections” option and connect to your PC from your Chromebook using the Chrome Remote Desktop app there.

This isn’t a Chrome OS-only feature. You can also use Google Chrome to remotely access Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs from any other type of PC,  whether you have a Chromebook or not.


Print via Google Cloud Print

If you ever need to print something, you should be aware that you can’t plug printers directly into your Chromebook and print to them. However, you can set up Google Cloud Print and use it to remotely print to supported printers from your Chromebook.

There are two ways to set up Google Cloud Print. Either you have a Google Cloud Print-ready printer, or you can install Chrome on a computer connected to a traditional printer and set up the Google Cloud Print connector, which will allow you to remotely print to that PC. Think of it like sharing a printer on a traditional Windows network, but even better — it also allows you to print to Google Cloud Print printers over the Internet.

Click the Print option in Chrome’s menu, click the Change button under Destination, and use the Google Cloud Print option to set this up. Chrome OS also includes the ability to print to a PDF, so you can always print to a PDF file and print that PDF file later on another computer, if you like.


Use Powerwash to Wipe Personal Data

Chrome OS includes a “Powerwash” feature that functions similarly to the Refresh or Reset options on Windows 8, performing a factory reset and removing your personal data, putting a Chromebook back into its clean state. It’s ideal when you are going to give your Chromebook to someone else, as it will remove all of your personal data. Think of it like reinstalling Windows or performing a factory-reset of a tablet.

You’ll find this option on the Settings screen. Click the Show advanced settings link and scroll down the bottom, where you’ll see a Powerwash button.


Create Keyboard Shortcuts

Want to create your own keyboard shortcuts on Chrome OS? Use the Shortcut Manager extension, created by a Google employee. It allows you to assign custom keyboard shortcuts to everything from browser actions to running JavaScript bookmarklets on the current page. If you’re a fan of AutoHotkey on Windows, you may find that the extension can replace many types of shortcuts you would create using AutoHotkey.


View Local Files

Your Chromebook isn’t just a web browser. It also includes a Files app along with local file viewers that allow you to watch videos, play music, read PDFs and Microsoft Office documents, view images, and more. You can download all sorts of media files and open them later from the Files app.

Recover Chrome OS From a USB Drive

Chromebooks include a recovery mode that allows you to reinstall Chrome OS if your Chromebook’s software becomes damaged. However, this is unlikely to happen unless you’re messing around in Developer Mode.

To recover your Chrome operating system, you’ll need to create a recovery drive. You can do this by downloading and running Google’s Chrome Recovery Tool for Windows, Mac, or Linux. You can also create a recovery drive on Chrome OS itself. Just plug chrome://imageburner into the address bar on your Chromebook and you’ll access the interface. The recovery data can be copied to a USB stick or SD card.


To actually recover Chrome OS, you’ll need to press Escape + Refresh and hold down the Power button. This accesses the Recovery screen. Older Chromebooks have dedicated recovery buttons — you’ll find more information on Google’s website.

Use Developer Mode to Run Desktop Linux

Chromebooks allow you to disable their security features and enable Developer Mode. In Developer Mode, you can modify Chrome OS all you like and boot other operating systems, including Ubuntu and other traditional desktop Linux systems. You can even run a desktop Linux system side-by-side with Chrome OS, switching between the two with hotkeys.

Follow our guide to enabling Developer Mode and installing Ubuntu alongside Chrome OS for more information.


Know any other useful Chromebook tricks you’d like to share? Leave a reply in the Discourse thread!

Image Credit: Carol Rucker on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 06/7/13

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