Why I left my MacBook for a Chromebook

The Chromebook has inserted itself into my life in a way I never expected. Sorry, MacBook Pro -- I just don't need you right now

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As for connectivity, I've tried the Chromebook on Wi-Fi, using a cable in the device's Ethernet port and using 3G while traveling (including in the United Kingdom and France). All three have appeared equally useful. There's a short network startup time lag each time the lid is opened, presumably because the device switches off completely to save power when the lid is closed. Getting 3G SIMs in the United Kingdom and France was not too hard, although none of the stores I went to had any idea what a Chromebook was and configuring the right settings was hit-and-miss. All the same, I was able to find SIMs that worked on very reasonable price plans, and I've spent quite a bit of my time enjoying cafe ambience to write this.

Chrome apps close the deal
Since the device is just a browser in a box, there are as many applications for it as there are Web pages in the world. Web pages that have been designed as HTML5 applications are especially interesting, though. The Chrome Web Store is surprisingly populous, and I've found several useful applications.

  • I use Evernote compulsively for research and writing. I've added it to the Chromebook launcher so that it starts full-screen at startup. While I wish it had an offline mode, I've still found it the perfect workspace for the Chromebook.
  • Life without Twitter would be unthinkable (follow me at @webmink), so I've "installed" TweetDeck, which appears to be identical on all platforms.
  • I've installed an offline-capable code editor, ShiftEdit.
  • To manage my servers, there's a secure shell (SSH) extension to Chrome that works well and even allows me to use key-pairs for login.
  • I'm not big on games, but I have Suduko, Angry Birds, and Cut the Rope for idle moments.
  • I have a number of e-books (all DRM free), so I've installed the Kindle app, which also works well offline and can manage offline books.
  • Google has regrettably and inexplicably poor support for OpenDocument Format, the standard used by many of the world's governments, so I've added InstallFree Nexus for LibreOffice. This allows me to have a full copy of LibreOffice in a browser tab.

Switching between these full-screen apps and the tabbed browser is easy: There are dedicated keys on the Chromebook keyboard for it, along with browser keys (back, forward, reload, search) and controls for screen brightness and audio volume. The keyboard has a handy pop-up map (Crtl+Alt+/), and there are a large number of shortcuts for browser and device functions. For example, it's easy to take screenshots, to look at the task list, to cycle through browser tabs, and so on. The trackpad is nice and responsive, with support for common gestures and a clickable edge for those preferring a mouselike feel.

Skirting the limitations
I can't do everything on the Chromebook, but fortunately it comes with Google's remote screen-sharing application, delivered as a Chrome extension with a helper application for some platforms. I've added this to the family's Apple computers, and I am able to remotely screen-share from anywhere in the world, using either a secure code they give me via phone/IM or for one or two using a password. I've been able to remotely edit LibreOffice documents, manage my photo library, and copy documents to Google Drive or Dropbox. I've been experimenting with using VirtualBox sessions remotely but so far have not been able to add them to my remote systems list.

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