Dear Chromebooks: I want to love you. I really do. I get along very well with its corporate siblings, Chrome on Windows and Android on my phone. We can work all day together without any problem. I see and respect the work you’ve been doing on yourself over the past few years. Great job on self care.
But there’s one thing that keeps coming between us, one thing that keeps me coming back to you. Bad Girls rival every time I try to switch to their simpler (mostly) open source OS and affordable hardware. It’s not you Chromebooks, it’s Photoshop.
A series of failed adventures
I’ve been using Google’s desktop OS ever since it launched in one form or another, and I always seem to have at least one laptop or tablet running Chrome to keep me up to date. And for all that time, I’ve been desperate to have Photoshop in some shape or form. As a technical reporter and reviewer, I need a powerful image editor as part of my daily workflow, whether it’s creating a quick header image (like the one you see at the top of this article) or cleaning up a bunch of photos. review.
I should point out that it is very specifically photoshop, and not just, say, a competent image editor, which I crave. I’ve been using Adobe’s visual tools for over twenty years, ever since Desktop Publishing class in high school, and I’m very quick and proficient with Photoshop’s suite of editing tools in particular. Anyone who has memorized a complex set of keyboard shortcuts, only to find that they’ve all been moved around in a competing program, knows what I’m talking about.
As for getting it on ChromeOS, this need has manifested itself in a number of ways. The easiest one and the one I tend to fall back on if I get cornered is sending out the clones. There are several web-based image editors that try to mimic Photoshop’s functionality to a greater or lesser extent and work great as web apps on a Chromebook. My pick is Photopea, which is not at all shy about its aspirations to be a web-based Photoshop.
And don’t get me wrong, Photopea is as good as it gets. While it lacks some of Photoshop’s more powerful CPU- and GPU-intensive tools, they’re not really necessary for my work. I’d be happy to recommend it to anyone who needs a few tweaks from time to time, on almost any platform; It’ll probably even work on a tablet if you’re desperate. The ads are pretty big and annoying, but you can get rid of them for much less than a Creative Suite subscription.
But being web-based, it still requires you to upload photos in a cumbersome file browser, instead of grabbing them straight from your desktop or (even better) copying and pasting them onto a canvas for instant gratification. Since it also runs in the Chrome browser, my beloved keyboard shortcuts have to be shared across browser and image editor functions, which causes even more headaches. I’m still looking for
One of the other options I’ve tried is to run the Photoshop Windows program on an emulator. This may not be an option on some Chromebooks, particularly budget models and those based on ARM hardware, but anything that uses a Core i3 or similar processor should at least be able to try and run Windows apps using Linux proxies. from Chrome and WINE or the one based on Android. Cross.
That’s fine if you want, say, a basic text editor or an old copy of Space Cadet Pinball. But Photoshop is a beast of a desktop program, even when running natively. When you try this kind of solution, the headaches start immediately. My preferred version of Photoshop is Creative Suite 6, which is now over a decade old. I’m using such dusty software because 1) it still has all the features I need and then some and 2) I’m too cheap to pay every damn month for Creative Cloud.
But getting CS6 to run on CrossOver is, if you’ll excuse the dense technical jargon of my profession, a uncle. I’ve tried this a few times on Chromebooks that should be more than up to the task and something always seems to trip me up. On the rare occasions that I can get past Adobe’s intentionally labyrinthine license verification process, the app just crashes.
I have an even older version of Photoshop for emergencies, Creative Suite 2. (Because Adobe no longer operates the license servers for this software, you can get a complete, true copy and run it without verification, even if, Ahemyou forgot where you put your receipt.) And CS2 does run WINE on a Chromebook… but the nearly 20-year-old software assumes you’re using it on a CRT monitor with a resolution similar to an Apple Watch. As a result, the interface is so small that I couldn’t use it even if I hadn’t ruined my eyes with decades of video games.
I’ve even tried a less mainstream alternative: Android. All new Chromebooks run Android apps from the Google Play Store, and there are plenty of Photoshop apps for Android. Except, well photoshop While iPads have access to a sort of full version of Photoshop (mostly designed for use with an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil), Adobe gave up trying to make a full version of its image editor for Android years ago and hasn’t quite gotten there. . back. Now all the apps called “Photoshop” on the Play Store are awkward little things, more interested in filtering selfies than editing anything.
The fact that Adobe makes Photoshop for a tablet, ostensibly a media consumption device, and not a full desktop operating system with more users than MacOS, makes me angry. Defeated again, I tried less tasty options.
Land of the Linux hippies
If you make the mistake of letting an avid Linux user corner you, you’ll discover that there are a wide variety of powerful image editors available outside of the world of Windows and Mac. If you’ve ever looked for a less expensive Photoshop alternative to average car payment, you may have even heard of them. GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, is the go-to option and the Linux version can run on Chrome OS natively.
Unfortunately, I found GIMP’s interface to be as cumbersome as its name is unpleasant. And that’s saying something, given that Photoshop’s interface isn’t exactly easy to use after 35 years of active development. There are options to make GIMP more accessible to long-time Photoshop addicts, but that’s adding more and more steps between me and only being able to use a Chromebook as my primary work machine.
Unfortunately, all the other Linux alternatives I found ran into similar problems. Some were too basic, being passion projects for Linux developers and fans rather than true alternatives to commercial software. Some were too photo-focused and lacked the detailed raster editing you needed for quick header images. And some were just plain annoying, lacking specific tools I’d come to trust or the option to tweak those all-important keyboard shortcuts.
At this point, I must confess, I am being picky. If I were to really get down to business and stop relying on Photoshop, something both Adobe and I desperately deserve, I’d be in a much better position to do so. I could try a lot of free and cheap software, and I wouldn’t find myself tied to both Photoshop and Windows hardware just to get through my average workday.
But I can’t, so here I am, isolating myself from a wonderful slice of the laptop market and going back to Lenovo for a new Thinkpad every few years. Damn.
hope on the horizon
There is some hope on the horizon. Although it still maddeningly refuses to make a full version of Photoshop for the Play Store (Android) or the Chrome Web Store, Adobe has made one that can run in the browser. The web-based Photoshop is still in beta a year and a half after its introduction and is still locked behind an expensive Creative Cloud monthly subscription.
Yes, I tried the web version of Photoshop on Chromebooks. It runs into some of the same problems as Photopea. He wants you to upload images through Adobe’s maddeningly slow online library system instead of just grabbing them from a local file. And while it’s better than a basic free image editor, it’s still missing some of the basic editing tools that even Photopea has already pulled off.
There are rumors that Adobe is making this web-based version of Photoshop free for everyone. Those rumors are going back a year at this point, so I’ve stopped holding my breath. I have a feeling that someone at Adobe became terrified of simply making something that millions of people want and can easily use, and retreated to their comfortable pillow fort made of giant piles of cash.
I guess I could always wait for Google to make an alternative to Photoshop, which would be a great addition to your Google Docs suite and would work great on ChromeOS… but then I’d be waiting for it to land on Google Graveyard. It’s a cliché for a reason, after all.
So sorry ChromeOS. It has a lovely, streamlined interface and wonderful hardware (like the new Framework Chromebook) that can last a full work day without breaking a sweat. If it wasn’t for this bug, much more mine and Adobe’s than yours, I’m sure we’d make a great team. In the meantime, I wonder what the latest ThinkPads will look like…