Chromebook, I want to love you. Seriously. It already has a good relationship with your siblings, Chrome for Windows and Android smartphones. We can work together all day without any problems. I admire the accomplishments of Chromebooks over the past few years. I think you are doing very well in self-management.
But there is one thing that remains between us. It’s what makes my head spin with a frown every time I try to upgrade to plain ChromeOS and cheaper hardware. Chromebook, not your problem. The problem is Photoshop.
I’ve been using Chrome OS since it came out. I always seem to have at least one ChromeOS-based laptop or tablet that keeps things fresh. And I’ve always been eager to install Photoshop somehow. As a journalist and tech reviewer, I need a powerful image editor as part of my daily workflow, whether it’s creating a simple header image or organizing a bunch of review photos.
But I want to clarify that what I want is Photoshop, not just any other general purpose image editor. I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop for over 20 years since I took a desktop publishing course in high school, and I know how to use Photoshop’s editing features very quickly and efficiently. Anyone who has memorized complex keyboard shortcuts and then changed them all in a competing program will understand.
A web app?
The easiest way to install or introduce Chrome OS is to replace it with a clone. There are several web image editors that more or less mimic the functionality of Photoshop and work great as web apps on Chromebooks. My primary use is Photopea, an editor that proudly aspires to be web-based Photoshop.
Make no mistake. Portopia is a very good service. It lacks Photoshop’s powerful CPU and GPU-intensive tools, but I don’t really need them for my work. If you need a bit of image editing that works on all platforms, I recommend this service. It will also work on tablets. Ads are rather large and annoying, but you can get rid of them for a fraction of the cost of a paid subscription to Adobe’s Creative Suite.
But since it’s web-based, you have to upload photos through a cumbersome file explorer rather than importing them directly from your desktop or copying and pasting them to the canvas for instant gratification. Since it also runs in the Chrome browser, the shortcuts for Photoshop image editing overlap with the browser. I will have to find another alternative.
Another method is to run the Windows Photoshop program in an emulator. This method may not work on some Chromebooks, especially lower-end models and Chromebooks based on ARM hardware. But on a Chromebook with a Core i3 or higher processor, you can at least run Windows apps with Chrome’s Linux capabilities, or with WINE, or with the Android-based CrossOver app.
It’s fine if you’re using a basic text editor or the old game Space Cadet Pinball, for example. However, even when running natively, Photoshop is one of the beasts among memory-hungry desktop programs. The headaches start to come. The version of Photoshop I mainly use is Creative Suite 6, which is about 10 years old. I use this outdated software because, one, it has all the features I need, and two, I can’t afford Adobe’s paid monthly plan.
However, running Photoshop CS6 with a crossover is kind of a “challenge” I would say. I tried it several times on a Chromebook with specs that should theoretically be able to run it, but something always seemed to prevent it from working. Even when the Adobe license verification process, which was deliberately twisted with difficulty, was barely passed, the application terminated abnormally.
I have the older version, Creative Suite 2, for emergencies. (Adobe no longer operates license servers for this software, so if you forget where you left your receipt, you can always get a genuine copy and run it without authentication.) CS2 can run from the WINE app on a Chromebook, but that’s close to 20. Since it’s software, CS2 recognized the resolution as an Apple Watch-level CRT monitor, so the interface was displayed too small.
This time I tried Android. All modern Chromebooks run Android apps from the Google Play Store, and there are plenty of Photoshop apps for Android. Except for Photoshop. For the iPad, you get access to a sort of full version of Photoshop (mostly for use with the iPad Pro or Apple Pencil), but Adobe gave up on making a full version of its image editor for Android a while ago. years and is back. Now, anything with the name “Photoshop” on the Play Store is nothing more than a flimsy app that puts filters on your selfies rather than editing them.
It’s annoying that Adobe makes Photoshop for tablets, which are apparently media-consuming devices rather than desktop operating systems with more users than macOS. Failing again, I had no choice but to try the less appealing option.
Should I go to Empire Linux?
If you meet an avid Linux user, you will know that there are a number of powerful image editors available in the world beyond Windows and Mac. The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is the most popular option, and a Linux version can run natively on ChromeOS.
Unfortunately, GIMP’s interface isn’t as simple as its name suggests. When you consider that Photoshop’s interface, which has been consistently and painstakingly developed over 35 years, is not user-friendly, something is clearly suggestive. There are ways to make GIMP easier for long-time Photoshop users, but it increasingly complicates the steps for using a Chromebook, your primary work machine.
Unfortunately, all of the other Linux-based alternatives encountered similar issues. Some were so rudimentary that they only satisfied developers and Linux fans rather than being a real alternative to commercial Photoshop software. Some apps are so photography-focused that they lack the raster-editing features you need to create header images quickly. Others were annoyed by the lack of options to adjust certain tools or keyboard shortcuts they often use.
I admit that at this stage, I am picky. Things would have been much better if we had boldly reduced our reliance on Photoshop. There are plenty of freeware, inexpensive products you can try, and you won’t have to go through the complicated process of opening Photoshop and activating your Windows hardware to go about your daily business.
But by nature, I couldn’t. So every few years I come back to Lenovo for a new Thinkpad.
hope rises on the horizon
Still, there seems to be some hope. It’s frustrating that they still haven’t made a full version of Photoshop for the Android Play Store or the Chrome Web Store, but Adobe has made a web version that runs in your browser. Web-based Photoshop is still in beta, a year and a half after release, and still tied to an expensive Creative Cloud monthly plan.
Of course, I also tried the web version of Photoshop on my Chromebook. I had the same problem with Portopia. Instead of just loading images from local files, they had to be loaded through Adobe’s incredibly slow online library system. It’s better than the free image editor, but still lacks some of the basic editing tools even in Photopia.
Rumor has it that Adobe is releasing the web version of Photoshop for free. However, the reliability is low because it has already been a year since this rumor spread. Did a single senior Adobe executive retreat to a citadel of silver, daunted by the task of creating a product that millions of people could easily use and need?
We can wait for Google to develop a Photoshop alternative that works well on ChromeOS in the Google Docs suite. However, even if such an application is created, it will end up being buried in the graveyard dedicated to Google’s many other stop/stop programs or services. After all, clichés have a reason.
So I have to say sorry to ChromeOS. Got a nice and concise interface. It’s also released some cool new hardware, including a new Chromebook frame that you can use all day without breaking a sweat. The cause of this failure was not the fault of the Chromebooks, but rather of the picky users and Adobe, but I hope to see them one day as members of the same team. Until then, I’ll have to look at the newer ThinkPad laptops.