Will a Chromebook Computer Run Genealogy Programs?

I recently published an article (at https://wp.me/p5Z3-76Q) about an inexpensive Chromebook computer that is on sale right now. I have also published numerous articles in the past about Chromebooks. Every time I publish an article about Chromebooks, several people write and ask, “Will a Chromebook computer run genealogy programs?” I decided to answer in the newsletter so that everyone can read my reply.

So, the question is: Will a Chromebook Computer Run Genealogy Programs?

The short answer is: a Chromebook will run some genealogy programs but not all of them.

Here is a longer answer:

A Chromebook will run programs written for the Chrome operating system plus almost all the genealogy programs designed to run in a Web browser, including: MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com, The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding© (“TNG”), WebTrees, and more.

Here is an even longer and even more detailed answer that perhaps will clarify things:

A Windows computer will run all the programs written for Windows plus all the programs designed to run in a Web browser.

A Macintosh computer will run all the programs written for Macintosh plus all the programs designed to run in a Web browser.

A Linux computer will run all the programs written for Linux plus all the programs designed to run in a Web browser.

An iPad tablet will run all the programs written for the iPad plus all the programs designed to run in a Web browser.

An Android computer will run all the programs written for Android plus all the programs designed to run in a Web browser.

A Chromebook computer will run all the programs written for Chrome plus all the programs designed to run in a Web browser plus some Chromebook computers will also run programs designed for Android computers.

Windows and Macintosh programs do not run on a Chromebook.

Programs designed to run in a Web browser include hundreds of word processors, spreadsheet programs, presentation programs (similar to PowerPoint), games, email programs, photo editing programs, social media programs (Facebook and others), Skype, VPNs, online shopping, street maps, financial management programs, and much, much more.

Chromebooks will even play movies and television programs. See https://support.google.com/googleplay/answer/1266222?hl=en and https://help.netflix.com/en/node/296 for the details.

In short, Chromebooks will perform all the tasks that the majority of computer owners need. However, they will not run programs written for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, or iPads.

Chromebooks also will not run any “heavy duty” programs that require a lot of processing power, such as most engineering programs, CAD/CAM programs, video editing programs, or the graphics-intensive games. If you need to run programs that require a lot of computing power, you need to spend $1,000 or more for a powerful Windows, Macintosh, or Linux computer.

I suspect very few computer owners actually need that much computing power.

For a list of the Chrome apps available, go to https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/extensions. You will note that almost all of the Chrome programs are available free of charge although there are a very few exceptions. Chromebook users can run any of the programs listed at https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/extensions plus all the programs designed to run in a Web browser.

Downloading and installing a Chrome program is almost trivial: find a program on the list at https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/extensions, click on ADD TO CHROME, then wait a few seconds as the program is downloaded and installed automatically. That’s it!

Chromebooks are more secure than Windows, Macintosh, iPad, Android, and even more secure than Linux. I normally use a Chromebook to access my bank’s web site and other financial web sites simply because I know that a Chromebook is more secure than a Windows or Macintosh computer.

Chromebooks never get viruses, never need backups (because files are stored in the highly-reliable cloud and are backed up daily by computer professionals who know what they are doing), never need software updates (because updates are installed automatically in the background in a manner that is invisible to users), have batteries that last all day, and are simple to use.

Summation

So here is the real question: Is a Chromebook suitable for use by everyone?

My answer: A Chromebook is NOT suitable for use by everyone but it is an excellent choice for MOST people. It will perform all the tasks that most computer owners need. For genealogists, a Chromebook will also allow you to keep all your genealogy information in “the cloud,” including on MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com, and other genealogy sites. Because of its simplicity, a Chromebook is especially suitable for use by anyone who is not a technology expert, including the elderly, adolescents, and anyone else who doesn’t want to be bothered with the complexity of Windows computers.

This is a computer your grandmother can use.

A Chromebook is also an excellent choice for anyone, including computer experts, who wants an inexpensive second computer for use while traveling so they can read and write email, surf the web, play a few games, and perhaps watch a movie. In my case, I also own an (expensive) MacBook Pro laptop. However, I worry about theft when I am traveling. Thousands of laptops get stolen every year in airports, hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, airline luggage, libraries, and elsewhere. While I would hate to have any computer stolen, I’d rather lose an inexpensive Chromebook instead of an expensive Windows or Macintosh laptop!

However, if you really NEED a high-powered (and expensive) computer for some reason, you need to look elsewhere.

15 Comments

Dick, you forgot to mention the effect of a slow or unreliable Internet connection. This is a big issue outside of the US — where everyone probably has Gigabit connections (smiley) — and an O/S that totally depends on an Internet connection may be a poor choice under those circumstances.

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    Yes… and no … and it all depends.

    I don’t believe the Internet connection speed is a bigger or smaller issue with Chromebooks than it is with Windows/Macintosh/Linux/iPad and the others. The Chromebook’s operating system resides completely inside the Chromebook (actually on high-speed solid state disk drives that usually are FASTER than traditional disk drives used by most Windows computers). Booting up a Chromebook is much faster than Windows and then moving around the operating system of a Chromebook should always be about the same speed or maybe slightly faster than Windows or Macintosh. That’s the operating system, not reading and writing data files.

    HOWEVER, I do agree that the speed of reading and writing ANYTHING to the Internet always depends upon the speed of the connection. Of course, that is true of all computers, not just Chromebooks. The only difference I can see is that most Windows and Macintosh and Linux users probably save their files to the local disk drive inside the computer (although I rarely do that myself). Saving to a local disk drive is always faster than saving files online. On the Chromebook, it is still possible to save files to the internal (high-speed) solid state disk drive but I suspect that most Chromebook users normally save their files to the Internet, specifically to a file storage service area in the cloud (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.)

    So, yes, I agree that probably MOST Chromebook users will be very dependent on Internet connection speeds more than will most users of other systems. No doubt of that.

    I will also point out that SOME users, including myself, normally save ALL data files to the Internet anyway, regardless of which operating system they use. I want to always have all my files available to me at any time, whether I am using the desktop system at home, from a laptop computer while in a hotel room, or from a cell phone or tablet computer when I am traveling, especially when I am at a genealogy conference. Therefore, I developed the habit several years ago of saving ALL my data files to a secure area in the cloud. To me, I see no difference whether I am using a Chromebook, Windows, Macintosh, Linux, iPad, or other computer. For me and for many other people, ALL computers depend upon the Internet connection speed.

    NOTE: Admittedly, with Dropbox, Google Drive, and a number of other file storage services, there always are DUPLICATE copies: one copy on the local hard drive and a duplicate copy on the online file storage service.

    There is a side benefit to saving all files online: security. If anyone steals one of my computers, they won’t find much information on that computer. Instead, all my secret information (and non-secret information as well), including financial information, Social Security number, income tax records, and more, are always safely and securely saved in the cloud. I never save any confidential information on a hard drive inside a computer where it can be accessed by a thief.

    NOTE: I had a laptop stolen from the trunk of my automobile some years ago, before saving files in the cloud became common. All my confidential information for me and my employer of the time was stored on that laptop’s hard drive where the thief could see everything.

    Also, anyone can save files at very high speeds to the internal hard drive on Chromebook systems, although I suspect not many Chromebook users do that. I know that I do not; I always save my files to the cloud.

    In short, “Different strokes for different folks.”

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    Having lived with both slow and unreliable connections for many years then my perspective will be different, Dick. It already influences how I do my backups and which email protocol I use. In IE, I am lucky (given my rural location) to have a 4Mbit download speed, and about 10% of that as upload. This is slow by modern standards, but usable — if the connection stays up. It’s good at the moment but I have had terrible experiences with Internet connection being lost due to ISP issues, electrical shorts, lightening strikes, or just cavalier maintenance workers shutting it off with no warning. As a long-standing software developer taking contracts thousands of miles distant, I can say that many items of infrastructure break, or get hopelessly out of step, if you lose a connection at the wrong time. When I’m in the UK, I have had to use a 0.6Mbit download for many years, and (again) about 10% of that for upload. This was dreadful but was the result of a copper connection that was far from the exchange. I’ve finally got it upgraded to a fibre connection but haven’t had chance to try it yet. Using a wireless connection isn’t even an option in IE due to the surrounding mountains and inclement weather. So when I say slow/unreliable, I mean to the point of breaking stuff.

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Still no answer on the question of back up to External Hard Drives? Even high capacity flash drives/thumb drives?

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    —> Still no answer on the question of back up to External Hard Drives?

    Chromebooks can save files to flash drives, external hard drives, as long as they have a USB connector. I do save files to a flash drive occasionally from my Chromebook. It works in the same manner as saving files to the Chromebook’s internal hard drive.

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actually, a bit insulting re the “grandmother” bit…my mum is a grandmother and she was in on the ground floor of computing – programming with punch cards, teaching C++ etc. She’s a whiz with a computer. Conversely, I regularly help teens (I’m a librarian) who don’t know how to find the print function in Word. Or, for that matter, how to OPEN Word.

Might be better to term chromebooks as those that can be used by people with little computing experience.

Liked by 2 people

Thank you for the clarification on the abilities of Chromebooks.

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Another consideration is that Google only auto-update Chromebooks for a short time. I believe the Dell Chromebook 11 in your previous post was model 3180, which Google will stop supporting in February 2022: https://support.google.com/chrome/a/answer/6220366?hl=en. That’s probably why it was on sale.

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So if I save all my files, data etc from a windows 10 to an external hard-drive, I can then plug it into a new chrome book, and hey presto? Also, does Legacy family history software work on a chromebook, and also can I download the microsoft Office on it?
Thanks for all your great newsletters!

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    —> So if I save all my files, data etc from a windows 10 to an external hard-drive, I can then plug it into a new chrome book, and hey presto?

    Yes.

    There is one caveat, however. The flash drive or hard drive must be formatted in FAT32 format. Probably 99% of all flash drives are formatted in FAT32. However, people who use Macintosh or Linux or UNIX systems sometimes reformat their flash drives into some other format in order to gain more speed or security (perhaps they don’t want their flash drives to be read on some other operating system in case of theft or other reasons).

    —> Also, does Legacy family history software work on a chromebook

    No. Legacy Family Tree is a Windows program. As I wrote in the above article: “A Chromebook computer will run all the programs written for Chrome plus all the programs designed to run in a Web browser plus some Chromebook computers will also run programs designed for Android computers.” So that means that Chromebooks cannot run any programs written for Windows or Macintosh.

    —> and also can I download the Microsoft Office on it?

    Yes. There is a Chromebook version of Microsoft Office. If you already have a valid copy of Microsoft Office on your Windows or Macintosh system, you can legally install Microsoft Office for Chrome at no additional charge. For details, see https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/office-online/ndjpnladcallmjemlbaebfadecfhkepb?hl=en

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    That’s two questions.
    1. Yes. You can use the data of Windows programs that are saved in standard format files in Chrome OS apps and vice versa. eg doc, docx, xls xlsx, rtf, pdf files can be exchanged. Microsoft Office is a Windows program that runs only on WIndows OS.
    2. No, you can’t install Microsoft Office or any WIndows program on Chromebook it’s larger than the storage capacity of a Chromebook. but there are alternatives.
    a. Windows 365/Offiie Online which runs on a web server using the Chrome web browser client can be used on Chrome OS,
    b. You can use the Google GSuites apps (Docs, Sheets) to edit the Office files
    c. You can use the Android versions of the Offie apps.
    4. LibreOffice,

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    Thank you for your help. Just one last thing, do you know if Legacy FH software would work on a Chromebook?

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    No. Legacy Family Tree is a Windows program. As I wrote in the above article: “A Chromebook computer will run all the programs written for Chrome plus all the programs designed to run in a Web browser plus some Chromebook computers will also run programs designed for Android computers.” So that means that Chromebooks cannot run any programs written for Windows or Macintosh.

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    Thanks again, Dick.

    Like

This was a somewhat complex explanation that tried to be fair, but was ultimately was written as if Chrome OS had something to prove.

Here’s the same information phrased differently.

Any program written for a proprietary OS is unlikely to run on any other proprietary OS. That is true of genealogy programs.
A program that is based on open standards can be more easily maintained and upgraded than one based on a proprietary OS. It is not intrinsically less buggy, or superior, but more transparent. Microsoft’s and Apple’s OSs and programs are proprietary. Linux is an open standards kernel. Chromium OS is an open standards distribution that runs on the Linux kernel, and is intended to be more secure . Chrome OS adds a few things to Chromium that makes it easier to automatically maintain, update or upgrade than other Linux distributions including Android.
Few OSs can run as many programs/apps designed for another OS, or share files with other OSs’, or run applications without using an emulator as Chrome OS.

Chrome OS can run apps designed for Linux or Android, share files with Windows, Apple and Linux, and run programs of Android and Linux.

Windows PCs can’t run programs designed for Mac OS, iOS, Android, Linux or Chrome OS
Mac OS and iOS can’t run programs designed for Windows, Android, Linux of Chrome OS
Linux can’t run programs designed for Windows, Mac OS, iOS, or Android .

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