Switching from a Mac to a Chromebook: Problems and solutions

Switching from a Mac to a Chromebook: Problems and solutions

Switching from a familiar operating system can cause some anxiety. If you’ve used macOS most of your life, you might be a bit hesitant about making the move to a new Chromebook. More often, users are choosing Chrome OS over their Mac due to the lower cost for hardware. In fact, you can buy a high-end Chromebook for around $1,000, often less than even the cheapest Mac devices.  If you want to save some cash, the switch will require some minor adjustments to your workflow. File management, keyboard shortcuts, and app installation all work a bit different on a Chrome OS device. Luckily, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know to painlessly switch from a Mac to a Chromebook.

File and app management

Chromebooks are built for the cloud, and local storage works a bit differently. Your information gets saved within the Files app instead of on your Desktop or Documents folder. You can use the Launcher to access that app quickly and then search for what you need. All downloaded content will appear in the Downloads folder, but you can also add subfolders for easy storage.

If you plan to use your Chromebook as your main device, we recommend using a cloud service like Dropbox or Google Drive as your primary storage solution.

Customize your dock and add web apps

Organization is important for any workflow. You can pin apps to your dock (at the bottom of your screen) for easy access and use. At the bare minimum you’ll want to keep Chrome, Gmail, Files, and likely YouTube in the dock. If you use your Chromebook for work, you may also want some productivity apps like Docs and Slides.

Remember you can also pin Android apps — a good Twitter app like Albatross for Android might come in handy. You can also pin files to the dock for easy access. Just like macOS, you can keep it visible or move it to the sides of the screen. Just right-click on an empty spot on the dock and you’ll see options for autohiding and position.

pin an app to dock in Chrome OS

To add apps to the shelf, simply right-click on an icon and select Pin to shelf. You can do the same to remove an app (unpin) or you can drag it out and drop it somewhere on the desktop.

You can also add web apps to the dock easily. To add a web app, simply visit the settings menu in your Chrome browser and choose the Create Shortcut option from the More tools menu. Name the shortcut whatever you like, and then choose Open as window to make it look more like an app than a Chrome tab.

For those that still use Apple services regularly, we recommend adding iCloud, Apple Music, and Apple TV as web apps in your Chromebook dock.

Creating a shortcut to the Apple Music web app on Chrome OS

Keyboard shortcuts and scrolling

Taking a screenshot

If you want to take a screenshot of your entire screen on a Chromebook, press Ctrl + the Show windows button (Ctrl + F5 on a Windows keyboard). To capture a partial screenshot, press Shift + Ctrl + Show windows (Shift + Ctrl + F5 on a Windows keyboard), then click and drag your cursor over the exact area you want to capture.

Caps Lock key replacement

You may have noticed that Chromebooks don’t have a Caps Lock key. You can capitalize letters using the Shift key as usual, but you can also press Launcher+Alt to enable Caps Lock.

remap keys for capitalization in Chrome OS

Change scrolling direction

You prefer scrolling so when you swipe down, you scroll down the page. This is very natural as it’s how smartphones and tablets behave with touch. It’s easy to change the scroll direction on your Chromebook. To do this, click the time in the bottom right hand corner, and click the Settings icon. Scroll down and select Touchpad. Under the scrolling option, select Enable reverse scrolling.

enable reverse scrolling in Chrome OS

Command key replacement

The Command key is an integral part of keyboard shortcuts on macOS. In Chrome OS, the Ctrl key is equivalent to the Command key. Perhaps the most annoying thing is the Ctrl key is a bit further to the left, making it a little more difficult to reach. If you want to remedy this situation, use Chrome’s versatility to swap the Ctrl and Alt key functionality.

To do this, click the time in the bottom right-hand corner, and click the Settings icon. Scroll down to Keyboard, and remap the keys, setting Alt to Ctrl and Ctrl to Alt.

switch ctrl and alt keys on Chrome OS

Viewing all open browser windows

Zooming out on all available windows is a feature all Mac users are accustomed to. In Chrome OS, it’s incredibly easy to navigate through browser clutter. To switch between several tabs fast, you can swipe with three fingers to the right or left (or up or down depending on if you have reverse scrolling turned on). This feature makes it easy for you to get a sense of everything you’re working on. From there, you can organize and close windows.

Installing new apps and app replacement

Loyal Apple users know to head to the App Store on Mac or iOS to download brand new apps. On Chrome OS, native apps are cloud-based. This means productivity apps like Gmail and Google Docs live and store items in the cloud. If you want local apps, you can enable Linux apps on your Chromebook.

Newer Chromebooks also support Android apps, downloaded via the Google Play Store. This opens up a wide array of possibilities, with millions of productivity apps and games available. Both web apps, Linux apps, and Android apps support shortcuts and are easily accessed via the Launcher.

If you’re looking for some apps on your Chromebook to replace their familiar macOS counterparts, check out our suggestions below. Note you’ll want to read our Linux apps on Chrome OS guide to fully understand how to install the suggested Linux apps from the command line. For a more complete list of Android app recommendations, see our full guide to Android apps on Chrome OS.

Replace Photoshop desktop app with GIMP (Linux)

  • Download using:

sudo apt-get install gimp -y 

GIMP is a full-featured photo editing suite, similar to Photoshop but without the high price. If you’re a graphic designer transitioning to Chrome OS, you’ll find that GIMP is an indispensable tool. The functionality and file types are precisely aligned with what you would expect in other photo editing software. There are many advanced tools like layers, lasso and plenty of brushes to keep advanced users satisfied. If you need a photo editing app on your Chromebook, this is the only way to go.

GIMP running on a Chromebook

Replace Final Cut Pro with Kdenlive (Linux)

  • Download using:

sudo apt-get install kdenlive -y 

Video editing is a big deal these days. Millions of people upload videos to YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok every hour. If you’re serious about video editing, moving to Chrome OS can be a bit scary. Thankfully, Kdenlive is a nice video editing program for Linux that can run on your Chromebook. Those of you that are used to running Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro will pick up the intuitive interface in no time.

It’s worth noting that while Kdenlive does run well on Chrome OS, you’ll need a fairly powerful Chromebook to take full advantage of this app.

Kdenlive running on a Chromebook

Replace Logic Pro with Audacity (Linux)

  • Download using:

sudo apt-get install audacity -y 

For the creators out there, you might need a nice app to record or edit audio. This is an advanced audio editor and recorder that comes in handy when you want to play around with various audio files. Audacity has a lot of features that allow you to create your own unique tracks or remix other songs.

There are also many plugins available for Audacity which will allow you to connect to sound equipment and other audio programs. Overall, this is the best audio editing app you can get on your Chrome OS device.

Audacity running on a Chromebook

Get Microsoft Office (Android app or web app)

Microsoft Office app on Chrome OS

Microsoft Office is the most popular productivity suite, offering Android apps for Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and so on. Overall, the Android version of each Office app runs quite well on Chrome OS. Basic editing features are free in all of the apps, but on devices over 10 inches in size — which accounts for most Chromebooks — you’ll need a Microsoft 365 subscription to enable all features. Unfortunately, the Android version of OneDrive doesn’t work properly on Chromebooks. You can now download Word, Excel, and Powerpoint in a single app, making organizing your app drawer a bit easier.

If productivity is your main goal on Chrome OS, also consider buying a docking station to turn your Chromebook into a full-time workstation.

Replace Apple Podcasts with Pocket Casts (Android app or web app)

Pocket Casts - Podcast Player
Pocket Casts - Podcast Player

Pocket Casts running on Chrome OS

For podcast enthusiasts, Pocket Casts is the best podcatcher you’ll find on Android. Lots of premium features and a beautiful user interface make this one of our favorite apps on Android, period. If you spend a lot of time listening to podcasts, the trim silence and skip intros feature will help you get straight to the content in each episode.

No doubt, Chromebooks are some of the best laptops you can buy. If you’re considering the switch from Mac to a Chromebook, you should now feel a bit more comfortable. Chrome OS is a breeze to use and many of the familiar macOS keyboard tricks still exist.

As for apps, there are plenty of great options. Between Linux apps and Android apps, you should be able to accomplish just about anything on your new Chrome OS device. Let us know in the comments section if you have other tips for Mac users moving to a Chromebook.

About author

Jeff Springer
Jeff Springer

Applied mathematician with a love for Android. I am interested in inverse problems for imaging and integration with camera software for mobile phones.