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Life With A Chromebook: The Verdict March 7, 2014

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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My Chromebook experiment is now in its fourth week.  A month of dedicated use is plenty of time to get a real feel for how this thing works, day in and day out.  What worked well and what didn’t?  Read on…

What Works

There is a lot to make you happy with a Chromebook.  Here’s what I found pleasing about my experience:

Fast startup For those who come to the Chromebook from the world of laggy, draggy Windows PCs, the response and speed of the device is delightful.  My Chromebook cold-boots in eight seconds or so.  That’s right, from the time you press the power button until you are logging in: eight seconds.  If you just put the device to sleep by closing the lid, it takes two seconds to restore from hibernation.  That typically means that the device is ready to go before you get the lid positioned at the right angle for typing.

Such responsiveness changes the way you use the device.  You can easily open the lid, type a quick note, and close the lid in just a few seconds.  Chromebooks offer the responsiveness of a tablet with the greater usability of a standard laptop.

For my particular unit, the slowest feature was the cellular radio.  It often took twenty to thirty seconds to get connected to the internet via cellular and I blame this more on the local reception than the Chromebook itself.  Oddly, this delay became agonizing.  As with all things on the internet, speed and responsiveness are relative.

Solid software Chrome OS just runs.  No patches, updates, drivers, or fixes.  My Chromebook updated twice last month: once when I first got it and again last week when Google pushed out an update.  The update downloaded unbeknownst to me, and then the Chromebook reminded that I needed to reboot to install it.  The reboot took ten seconds, and I had the latest update installed and running.  Chrome updates are even easier and faster than phone OS updates.

Chrome is, well, Chrome.  If you use Chrome on your existing laptop, you’ll be instantly at home on a Chromebook.  If not, you’ll need to adjust a bit to the browser and then you are good to go.  The idea that everything runs in a browser–and that “apps” are little more than glorified bookmarks–takes a bit of acclimatization.  But after a few days, the Chromebook seems like a perfectly natural way to get your work done.

Google Drive Google Drive forms the core file store for your Chromebook and works reasonably well.  It feels as if everything in Drive is right there on your Chromebook and the Chrome OS file browser is somewhat simple but very usable.

Existing cloud tools If you already use lots of cloud tools (I use tools like Evernote, Mint, Feedly, Pocket, and others) you’ll find them identically useful on your Chromebook.  Almost all Chrome plugins and extensions work the same as well.  In fact, the more cloud-based tools you adopt, the easier your transition to a Chromebook will be.

Third party hardware This one really surprised me.  Every peripheral I attached to my Chromebook worked perfectly.  USB drives showed up without a hitch, as did USB keyboards and mice.  Bluetooth keyboards and mice worked flawlessly as well, which was nice.  External monitors connected via HDMI seamlessly extended my desktop without a driver or a setting change, and the Chromebook even rerouted audio through the HDMI connection to play through my monitor speakers. The topper: a Logitech HD webcam worked the first time, integrating directly with the built-in Camera app.

In short, the Chromebook handles external hardware exactly as you would expect it to, without any further interaction after you plug it in.  What a pleasant surprise!

What Doesn’t

It’s not all unicorns and rainbows with a Chromebook, however.  There are still some rough patches that may be painful enough to keep you from using a Chromebook on a regular basis:

Heavy duty Office usage Microsoft’s web versions of Office tools work reasonable well to render documents, but they are horrible at creating any sort of content beyond plain text or simple spreadsheets.  (I couldn’t even get indented bullet lists to work in PowerPoint).  If you need to create lots of documents, you will slowly go insane with a Chromebook.  Even if you set up a remote desktop to serve as a Windows proxy, it is tedious and painful to use on a regular basis.

Native Windows apps At least Office has a web version.  Any other native app you use on your current laptop just isn’t going to run on a Chromebook.  Again, you can run it on a remote Windows PC and connect from your Chromebook as needed, but that gets old fast.  Until your native apps migrate to a reasonable web alternative, you could be stuck on your existing machine.

Printing Google has gone to great lengths to provide the Google Cloud Print service.  When it is available, it works well and reliably.  But it only works if you have access to a Cloud Print enabled printer or if you are printing to a printer attached to a always-on PC that is running the Cloud Print service.  In short, you have to run a personal print server to gain access to your existing printers.  That’s not something that average person has the ability or resources to do, and it makes printing a real issue with Chromebooks.

Other cloud storage As much as Google Drive integrates tightly with a Chromebook, other cloud storage options do not.  Every usage requires three steps: moving the file from the cloud to the Chromebook, using the file in some fashion, and then uploading the file back to the cloud.  Google, of course, would prefer that you stick with Google Drive, but for those of us with commitments to other cloud storage, this is a real pain.

The Verdict

After a month, where do I stand?  Although there are drawbacks that occasionally annoy me, my overall experience with my Chromebook is so positive that I am sticking with it as my daily, full-time computer.  I have my old laptop running under my desk, ready for the occasional remote connection for some crucial service the Chromebook can’t provide.  That only occurs once or twice a week, so I am happy to put up with that minor inconvenience.

That’s my personal perspective.  My original experiment was intended to see if the Chromebook was ready for general enterprise deployment.  The answer to that is “no.”  As much as I think some people could live with a Chromebook in its current form, most average enterprise users do not have the acumen or patience to adopt a Chromebook as their full-time machine.  A large-scale rollout will have to wait.

Nonetheless, I think many people would enjoy a Chromebook, especially as a cheap, portable adjunct to their “normal” computer.  You may find that a gradual transition works best, slowly using a Chromebook more and more and returning to your old laptop less and less.  All the negatives with a Chromebook will get fixed over time, I’m sure, and you’ll be way ahead of the curve in adopting the new technology.  If you have tried a Chromebook, I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions!

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Comments»

1. Saqib Ali - March 11, 2014

Greetings Chuck,

Good overview of the ChromeOS. I tend to agree with you. Chromebook may not be ready for enterprise, yet. But I see ChromeOS as the beginning rather that the end-goal. It is a beginning of a secure, worry free computing environment that is designed for non-IT users. Non-IT users don’t understand virus, malware, OS updates etc. They just want to use the spreadsheet, do diagramming, mind-mapping etc. They don’t wanna be in the business of updating the OS, and worrying about virus and malware etc. They just want a computing environment that doesn’t need care and feeding. ChromeOS is the first environment like that. I am hoping others will move in that direction as well.

Saqib

2. Rich Santoriello - March 14, 2014

Chuck & Saqib agreed…
It may not be ready for prime time but it is definitely close. Chuck thanks for your efforts here, you have helped us make a better internal decision moving forward.
Rich

3. John baker - March 17, 2014

I once did a consult at a company that was adopting Google wholesale… including Google Docs. In that environment, I would be on a Chromebook in a flash.
Alas, everyplace else I have worked it has been MS Office centric and that has been the deal breaker.

4. Dan Westmoreland - April 4, 2014

If you are an avid Google user, Nexus phones come with a hotspot option (without having to talk to your carrier), making on the go computing with a chromebook an option almost anywhere you are,

Chuck Musciano - April 4, 2014

Dan, I do this often. I carry both a Nexus 5 phone and Nexus 7 tablet; either can be a great hot spot in a pinch. You should check with your carrier, however. Some data plans do restrict whether they can be used for tethering in this manner and carriers may restrict access accordingly.


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