Chrome OS ushered in a small but significant change to the overall settings menu UI for Chromebooks, and I still advocate that the tiny shift in the sidebar menu makes a big difference from a usability standpoint. That change is not what we’re here to talk about as it rolled out in Chrome OS 76 without any flags or additional settings needed. This new overhaul is not a small change and it holds some pretty staggering differences compared to what we’ve seen for years.
First off, to understand where this is all going, we need to talk about what the differences are between Chrome and Chrome OS. In general, Chrome is the browser/platform that is widely available across multiple operating systems and is generally used by most as a web browser. Chrome OS, on the other hand, is the entire operating system available on a Chromebook. You still leverage the Chrome browser inside that OS, but the reach of Chrome OS is far deeper and more integrated than Chrome on something like a Macbook or Windows laptop would be.
Because of this, there are some quirks. One of those quirks is the settings menu. Since Chrome OS has been around, going to your OS settings via the panel and via the 3-dot overlay menu in a browser tab has always taken you to the same place: a single, unified popup settings window. This is generally fine, but it has always felt a tad weird that the browser on a Chromebook has the same settings menu as the underlying OS. Yes, Chroem and Chrome OS are very intertwined, but I’ve always felt that the settings I go to in a new tab should be for my browsing experience instead of my entire laptop.
A New Era
It seems Google feels this way, too, and they are ushering in a new menu setup that fully splits the Chrome OS menu away from the Chrome browser menu. It seems nit-picky, but this change makes great sense for a couple reasons.
First, new users to the platform won’t be quite as shocked when they want to change some browser settings. If you think about it, those who don’t fully understand the connection between Chrome and Chrome OS could easily be quite confused when they open the Chrome browser settings and find things like screen resolution, Bluetooth and Linux settings. On any other OS, Chrome’s settings would have nothing to do with system-level settings like those. As a long-time Chromebook user, this has never really crossed my mind, but taking a step back I can see where this would feel very odd.
Second, splitting the menus up will allow Chrome’s browser settings menu to be the same across the board for every OS: same options, same layout, same settings for every version of Chrome you encounter. Without splitting away the Chrome OS parts of the settings, this move simply isn’t possible.
On top of all the splitting action, we are also seeing a much cleaner, Material Design settings menu for Chrome OS. This all-white menu will easily make the transition to dark mode once we have it available as an OS-wide option in the near future. Overall, though I wasn’t sure about the necessity of this particular change from the outset, I’m fully on board at this point if it makes on-boarding new users simpler and gives Chrome a more solidified user experience across platforms moving forward. If you want to give all this a try, it is available right now in Chrome OS 76 behind a flag you can find by pasting chrome://flags/#split-settings in your URL bar, selecting “enabled” and restarting.