Seven Useful Chromebook Tricks You Should Know About

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Chromebooks aren’t like traditional laptops. While they’re much simpler, they still have various useful features you may not know about. 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 the machine with their own Chrome setup.

If you want to restrict access to your Chromebook, open the Settings menu by clicking the system tray and choosing the cog icon. From there, scroll down to the “People” section and click the Manage Other Users button.

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From here, you can choose how much (or little) you’d like to restrict the device from other users, up to and including locking everyone out who isn’t you. It’s your Chromebook, you can be selfish with it!

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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 as well. 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, either. 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.

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Print a Document with 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.

To add a printer to your Chromebook, jump into the Settings menu and scroll down till you see “Show Advanced Settings.” Click that.

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Scroll down this menu to the “Google Cloud Print” section, then click the Manage button.

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From here, you can add new printers if one is detected on the network—otherwise, devices that are already part of Cloud Print will show up. If you’ve ever printed to a network printer on another PC with Chrome, it will already be part of your Google Cloud Print. Neat, right? Setting up printers on Chromebooks is probably easier than any other device out there.

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Chrome OS also includes the ability to print to a PDF, so you can always save a file as a PDF and print that PDF file later on another computer, if you like.

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Use Powerwash to Wipe Personal Data

Chrome OS includes a “Powerwash” feature that functions similarly to the Reset option on Windows 10, performing a factory reset to return your Chromebook to its original, 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.

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Alternatively, if you’d just like to undo all of your custom settings, you can use the “Reset Settings” but to set everything back to default without having to Powerwash your Chromebook.

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 the operating system becomes damaged. That said, 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 Chromebook Recovery Utility for Windows, Mac, or Linux.

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The Recovery Utility will provide a simple walkthrough when you launch it—you’ll need to know your exact Chromebook model, however. You can find your Chromebook’s model number from the recovery screen, but there’s also a link to select the model from a list in the Recovery Utility.

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Once you’ve selected your model, you’ll insert a flash drive or SD card in the PC with the Utility running and select it from the dropdown menu. One final warning will let you know that all data on said drive will be erased—just click “Create Now” to move forward.

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This process will take a bit, depending on your computer, drive speed, and internet connection. Just sit tight—the Utility will tell you what’s going on throughout the duration.

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To actually recover Chrome OS, you’ll need to press Escape+Refresh and hold down the Power button. Older Chromebooks have dedicated recovery buttons—you’ll find more information on Google’s website. From there, just insert your drive and follow the instructions.

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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.

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Follow our guide to enabling Developer Mode and installing Ubuntu alongside Chrome OS for more information. Keep in mind, however, this is reserved for more advanced users, so tread carefully!

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+.


Cameron Summerson is a die-hard Android fan, Chicago Bulls fanatic, metalhead, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at HTG, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, spinning legs on the bike, chugging away on the 6-string, or being disappointed in the Bulls.