23 August 2015

Why I Switched to a Chromebook

I haven’t written a post about technology in a long time so I thought I’d give an update.

As most of you know, I’m a big proponent of Open Source Software (OSS). And I’ve been a user of various Linux Distributions for a number of years. Most recently, I’ve used Xubuntu, LinuxMint, and elementaryOS. Everyone of those Operating Systems (OSes) has their strengths and weaknesses, and the weaknesses are easily fixed. The biggest issue for me, wasn’t the software; it was my hardware.

Almost seven years ago I was given an Aspire 4730z by a colleague and it’s been a fantastic computer. Recently, however, it started freezing up. Then I thought the wireless card was failing. After about 30 minutes I’d lose connectivity to my router, so I bought a micro USB card. But then the USB ports started to go out. At this point it seems to be more of a motherboard issue, which is a whole other level of repair. It’s doable, but it’ll take time and money.

The problem was I was in the middle of a huge writing project with a fast approaching deadline. I really couldn’t shelve it to do the proper troubleshooting on my laptop to isolate the issue and repair it. I needed a new laptop and I needed one soon, so I started shopping around. My search quickly led me to look more closely at Google Chromebooks.

I’ve been a fan of Chromebooks since they were introduced in 2011 (we bought one for my wife a couple of years ago). The idea of having an inexpensive laptop that allowed someone to access the Internet with a full browser and web-based applications would be perfect for some people. You know the ones; people who check email and Facebook, write documents, listen to music, watch videos, etc. Heck, I think most people fall into that category! And the latest numbers show that people are realizing this. For the first time ever (and probably not the last time), Chromebook laptops have out sold Windows laptops.

What is a Chromebook and Chrome OS?

Chromebooks are (mostly) inexpensive laptops, starting at less than $200. They’re fast, lightweight, quiet, and have an extremely long battery life. They come in different screen sizes—ranging from 11.6” to the more standard 14” or 15”. While their internal storage is relatively small (starting at only 16GB), they come with at least 100GB of cloud storage in Google Drive. But, if local hard drive space is a factor, almost all Chromebooks come with a standard size SD card slot so you can expand your local data storage for music, pictures, or whatever.

If you needing something for desktop replacement, there are options for you, too! A Chromebox would be an excellent choice if you already have a great monitor—you just plug in your existing monitor, keyboard, and mouse. If you’re needing to replace everything, there’s the Chromebase, an All-in-One device with a huge monitor and an external keyboard and mouse. Prices here also start at less that $200.

Chromebooks (as well as Chromebases and Chromeboxes) run the Chrome OS, an operating system specifically designed for web applications and built on top of the linux kernel (based on the Open Source project, Chromium OS). With most of the data stored in the cloud one doesn’t have to worry about losing any data if the computer crashed. The OS is always up-to-date with the latest patches and upgrades because they’re automatically pushed down from Google. Furthermore, since it’s linux based, it’s virtually virus free!

Like a lot of people, though, I thought I needed something more than “just a web browser with a keyboard” (a phrase a colleague used to describe Chromebooks). While I do all of my writing in Google Docs, I have large music and picture collections. But those have all been uploaded to the cloud so I can access them from anywhere, so a Chromebook seemed like a really good solution for me.

“But,” someone will interject, “you have to be connected to the Internet to use a Chromebook. What are you going to do when that’s not available?”

To which I reply, “If you can’t connect to the Internet, what do you do on your laptop?”

“Uh...write documents…”

I can do that.

“Um...edit some pictures…”

I can do that, too.

In fact, I bet if you don’t have an Internet connection you don’t even turn on your laptop—you’ll grab your smartphone to check Facebook or update Twitter. That’s what I do. That’s what most people do.

You see, we spend most of our time online—whether that’s good or bad is for each of us to figure out. But that’s just how it is now. And since most of us do that, a Chromebook would make perfect sense for most people.

Certainly, there will be limitations, but that’s true no matter what OS one uses. If you’re someone that needs specialized, proprietary software, then a device running the Chrome OS isn’t going to work for you.

But with a Chrome Web Store boasting thousands of apps and extensions—many that can be used offline so you won’t need an Internet connection (they sync up when the connection is reestablished)—I’m sure you could find an app to do what you need to do. Don’t want to use Google Docs and want to use Microsoft Word? The free, online version is available through the Web Store. And for editing pictures, there’s a great app called Pixlr that will do just about anything you can imagine. But, if you just need to use Photoshop, Adobe has on web based version of that, too, called Photoshop Express Editor.

After looking over the latest best sellers, I chose the Toshiba Chromebook 2. It has 4GB of RAM, a 13.3” full HD display with a 1920 x 1080 resolution (which is great when watching Netflix), a sound system by Skullcandy, USB 3.0, a full HDMI out port, 720p webcam, over 8 hours of battery life, and more. I picked one up at Bestbuy for $280. I signed in to my Google account and everything I use in Google Chrome was there—bookmarks, extensions, apps, etc. And Android apps have been integrated, too! Plus, I got a 100GB of space added to my Google Drive.

It’s been fantastic! Because of the SSD (solid state drive) my Chromebook boots up in just a couple of seconds. With the 4GB of RAM, I can have multiple tabs open without any type of performance hit (but really though, how much multi-tasking does one do). My new system is fast, lightweight, and looks great!

If you’re in the market for a new computer, I highly recommend checking out a Chromebook. Seriously. I just might be the last computer you ever get.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC