Early Days with a Chromebook

For sometime now I have wanted to experiment with a Chromebook, to take on the challenge of living and working in the cloud. Until recently though the purchase of a Chromebook in Australia was not easy but this changed when Google announced local availability. A quick visit to the local JB HiFi and I became the owner of a Samsung Chromebook and a wallet that was only $346 lighter than before.

The experience of purchasing the Chromebook is worthy of some comment. The customers ahead of me were a father and daughter looking for a laptop and asking the clerk about the Chromebook. After a number of somewhat failed attempts to demonstrate what the computer could do he described the device to the pair as being just like a Windows or Mac computer but made running Google's software. I wonder how many people will be told this and leave with a device that they believe will run Word and Photoshop just like any other laptop. How many will then protest that their Chromebook doesn't perform as expected. I hope those charged with selling the product receive the support they need to do a good job of it and that Chromebooks wind up in the right hands.

Unboxing and setting up the Chromebook was unlike any computer I have used before. The box is very thin and light and the manual had fewer pages than a recently purchased toaster despite covering multiple languages. After an initial charging period I turned the computer, typed in my Google login, connected to WiFi and was immediately into my online world of bookmarks and previously opened tabs. A little time spent on the Chrome Web Store and I had access to the core Apps I use such as Evernote, DropBox and Skydrive. It was all very uneventful, no need to find discs of software or wait while software was installed. After 30 minutes of exploration it was as ready to go as it ever will be. With no work to do I put it down and went to make coffee. Such a very different experience from setting up my last Mac which provided hours of 'entertainment' as I installed all my bits and pieces.

So now I am using it for an increasing number of daily tasks and in most ways it is meeting expectation. All but one which is requiring a little rethink. I have used DropBox for years as my cloud storage option. It gives me access to all my files across all my different devices. On my computers I have it set to sync locally stored files so I always have access to the latest version of the files I work with. I can also access my files on the web and the DropBox app for the Chromebook is great too. Except that I don't have a way to edit my files and keep them updadted through DropBox. I have access to Live Office and Google Docs but neither gives me access to my DropBox files so for now I am shuffling files back and forth.

If I was starting over I would use either Google Docs or Skydrive for my cloud storage as both offer editing options for all my files. As I am rather committed to DropBox I am hoping to find a workflow that works with that.

In Other areas I am very impressed. Evernote unsurprisingly works very well and I can edit and publish my websites with ease. I like the keyboard and the new web centric buttons make life easier, or will once I get used to having them avaialble, I am still looking for the refresh button on screen even though I have a key for that exact job. I am getting to know the system a little better and have changed the way I work with Tabs so I can easily shift between workspace with a keyboard press rather than having to mouse between them.

I like that the device is light weight even though it is a little heavier than my Mac and while it is very plasticy it was very cheap and I am happy using it in places where I would be less relaxed using my Mac.

It is only early days but I like my Chromebook and can see how for many people it could be the perfect computer.

By Nigel Coutts