This entire post was written and edited from either a Chromebook or a Chromebox. In fact, this very blog was set up using some of the tools below.
In 2011, I was one of the lucky few to win the Google lottery and make it into Google I/O. One of the things included in their giveaways was the then newly announced Chromebook. Generally, these are underpowered laptops with the lightweight Chrome OS running on top.
The early days of the Chromebook
Chrome OS is essentially the Chrome web browser running on top of Linux. In a time where webapps were not quite as advanced as they are today and where offline webapps didn't even exist without a plugin, it is no surprise there were many who doubted. In fact, Chrome OS did not even have a real windowing system until a major update enabled the 'Aura' desktop. Up until that point, all Chrome OS windows took up the entire screen, as pictured above. These limitations caused many to view the Chromebook as a 'glorified web browser.' This did bring up a big question: What do you really do on your computer?
Why do you need a 'real' computer?
Seriously. What do you actually do on your computer? I am going to make the bold claim that almost all of your computer usage involves the web browser. Not just that, but almost anything you can think of can be replaced with a webapps now. Unless you run some really specialised software, the web has got your back.
"How will I survive without my favourite music streaming service?" you ask? I can't answer that, because you don't need to! Music streaming service Spotify has a web version of their player that works wonderfully on the Chromebook. I used to use Mog before they were acquired by Beats, and last.fm before that, but Spotify remains my current streaming choice.
I am not a Photoshop pro, nor do I really need all that editing power. I do, however, need to edit an image every once in a while and that is where Pixlr Editor comes in handy. It is an image editing suite the runs right in your browser. What I particularly like is how you are actually editing locally; there is no need to upload your photos before editing like other web-based solutions.
Need to write a term paper? Proposal for funding? A good old-fashioned letter? Believe it or not, both Google and Microsoft have full-on office suites, not just word processors. That means you can listen to tunes whilst editing a photo to insert in your excellent expense report.
Developing on a Chromebook
Say what? That is right, I do development on my Chromebook. Above is a Cloud9 IDE project which shows a file browser (left), editor (centre), preview window (right), and a terminal and log (bottom). Cloud9 runs on top of OpenShift and that little 'terminal' tab at the bottom is an_actual_terminal. That's right, Cloud9 gives you a virtual machine per workspace! I had used a competing service that mimics a terminal for common operations like
git, but while playing around with the Cloud9, I tried to get vim working and to my surprise it worked!
My own setup is a bit more complicated which I will highlight another time, but for anyone who does anything web-based, C9 is a wonderful solution. For those who need a bit more, access to a full terminal and advanced IDE features allows one to get some serious work done. As an added bonus: because Cloud9 is a webapp, it is possible to access your code anywhere there is an internet connection and a web browser.
Should you buy a Chromebook?
Depends. One of the reasons I came to rely on my Chromebook is because it would last most if not the entire day without needing a charge. Also, Chrome OS boots really quickly (eight seconds from a cold boot) which is something you really appreciate once you have to deal with starting up an aged Windows install.
Ultimately this is you decision, but I am very happy using my Chromebook daily. Chromebooks are fast, secure, and can be had on the cheap (as little as $200).
That said, the Chromebook is not for everyone; I am comfortable with having my life 'in the cloud,' but that may not be the case for you. Also, while select apps do work offline, many do not. For what it is worth though, a Chromebook is perfect for someone who is not quite so technology-literate as it is nearly impossible to permanently damage the OS on the Chromebook.