Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Living on a Chromebook - The First Year

Living on a Chromebook

The First Year - Impressions, The Future, and What’s Next

Where have you been!?

Sorry everyone for the lengthy break! As I was reviewing my previous entries in this series, I was shocked not to find an entry detailing the first month milestone; I was convinced that I had made such a post. However it turns out that I had only thought about it, outlined the post, and then promptly forgot to actually write the post. Please except my apologies.
Why have I been so slack? First and foremost (aside for the first month post, which I should have definitely done!) I didn’t want to make a post, just for the sake of making a post. I really had hit most of the topics I wanted to cover and had no serious value to add to the discussion. I needed sometime to elapse so I could have a better grounding in what the ACER C7 Chromebook can actually do. Next, I have just simply been swamped! Between my real job, a near full-time university course load, and family life…what little “free” time I had, I want to spend using my chrome book rather than writing about it.
But all that being said, enough has changed to merit a post.
In this entry I will discuss, other than my self-indulgent introduction, a general overview of the last year, comment about being cloud-based, speak about other Chromebook operating systems (OS), sum up my impressions, and conclude with what is next. So, without further  delay, let us begin!

How has it been?

First and foremost, let me clearly state that I still love this laptop! The Chromebook is an excellent personal computer. Its form-factor makes it easily portable, and its capabilities (capture in my previous articles) will be meet the needs of most users. I remain convinced that this is an excellent platform as it stands now, for kids and people who are not naturally computer savvy, and that, as Google continues to quickly develop the capabilities of it browser and hence the OS, this system will be quite usable by all levels of technical ability and complexity of needs. 
In General, I have found I could do just about everything I wanted/expected to be able to do from a laptop. From accessing email, social media, RSS feeds, banking, etc, to being able to find many applications capable of  replacing those I had been using on my Windows machines. In general the transition to ChromeOs was almost seamless, and simple. But somethings did not quite meet my expectations.
One of note for me was the lack of robust replacement to some application, for example - Skype. I like using Skype, for a few reasons, and found not having it on the Chromebook to be a pain. While Google Hangouts is getting better, it: a) does not have near the functionality of Skype (never-mind trying to figure our who is actually available and who isn’t - come on Google…that’s an easy one!), and b) there is no easy way to migrate all my Skype contacts over to Hangouts.
The other issue that kept just driving me nuts, was the lack of a robust word processor, and in fact the entire processing suite - documents, presentations, and spreadsheets. All are functional, and getting more so all the time, even allowing for offline use. But if you have a complex paper to write with citations and ridged formatting requirements, or you want to do something a little more creative, you will find Google Docs frustrating. But for all basic editing, spreadsheets, and visual presentations, the existing applications work fine.

The Cloud

The integration within the cloud is a wonderful thing. I have had to wipe out my Chromebook several times, not once because of any failing of the Chromebook or the OS, due to me tinkering with the system; more to follow below. But each time I have done so, or chosen to do so in order to get it back to a “pristine” state, it has been simple and flawless. From the moment I start the wipe process to being back up and running is less than 20 mins. Even when I utilize a second OS (see below), which entails two full wipes and an install of another OS, I will be back in business within an hour, or so. Windows certainly can not make that claim. More importantly, once the Chromebook has wiped itself and you have logged back in, ALL your data, passwords, applications, etc will all be available….everything….right away….as if you didn’t even wipe it. Having spent decades wiping and reinstalling everything piece-by-piece on my various Windows systems every 6 to 12 months, this is an almost magical joy. Of course, if you are storing material on the local HDD/SDD (depending on your model) without backing it up to Google Drive, then it will be gone - be forewarned!

Alternative Operating Systems

This is where the ACER C7 Chromebook shines over all others. Yes most every Chromebook can install another OS, but most only have a small internal SSD because it is expected that you will save the majority of your work in the cloud, and do not need to run application from the local drive. But when you use an alternative OS, it turns your Chromebook into a more conventional laptop, and you will need/want more local storage in order install local applications and have material at hand to work with. 
Why do this? Simply because it removes any need to be connected, unless you want to be. It allows for familiar applications to be run and installed on your computer - I.e. Skype, Open/Libre Office, Steam, VLC, Minecraft, etc, etc. 
But I am a little ahead of myself. Alternative operating system you say? Yes, I do. In fact I don’t, but several other people have done the hard work of making this possible, and many more have written in great detail about how to make it happen on a Chromebook. So I won’t repeat it here. If you want to give it a try just google about it and you will find some excellent instructions. In general, because ChromeOS is essential a linux distro, it is possible to load a more familiar linux distribution on a Chromebook. Due to the nature of the processor in most Chromebooks, and the lack of a traditional BIOS you can not directly boot any Linux Distro from a USB.
At the moment (and this is changing almost as quickly as I write this - so be gentle in your comments about how wrong I am!) you can dual boot your Chromebook in an Ubuntu environment using Crouton or Chrubuntu, or replace ChromeOS entirely using a select number of distributions which have been tweaked to work on ChromeOS laptop - Bohdi and !# (crunchbang) to name two.
I have only used Crouton myself, because I wanted to be able to switch on-the-fly from Ubuntu (I primarily used X11 and Unity depending on my mood) back to ChromeOS, and only Crouton allowed for this. <name> required you to select which OS you want to start at boot-up, similar to dual booting with Windows and Linux on a traditional machine. 
If you haven’t done so already, give it a try. It is very, very easy to do and if you do not like, or you mess it up, it is even easier to reset you system to normal as I mentioned above. But again, as mentioned previously, back-up your information before you try this. If you really mess your system up, there are instructions online which will allow you to create a recovery USB stick so you can reset you Chromebook if it won’t do so on its own, which has happened to me. (Lesson learned, do not turn off the computer when installing an OS! I was unwisely trying to triple boot)
Disclaimer to follow - any action you take with your Chromebook is your action alone, and done so at your own risk; I, or those authors of the webpages who suggest how this can be done, are not responsible for your system crashing or failing!

The End

Overall I have loved every movement of my experience on my Chromebook, and as I mentioned in one of my first posts, I had and continue to have zero buyer’s remorse - this machine was worth every single penny! While I have just recently stopped using my Chromebook, now one of my younger children has it as their personal laptop - and now they are as excited as I was. In fact I would say more so, as it is their first laptop.
So as you can see by the sub-heading, this is the end of my life on a Chromebook, it served me very well, but for some of the main reasons I needed a laptop in the first place, it just could not entirely fulfill my needs. Most notable was the need to easily be able to work disconnected for longer periods of time, and still have a system which would allow me to produce what I needed to do on a daily basis. Had I been able to remain connected (which my job does not allow for) this could  have been easily overcome. 

Final Words

What now, you ask? Or maybe you don’t, but I am going to indulge myself (as normal) and tell you anyway. Two days ago, I purchased a 13” Macbook Pro Retina, and I have drunk the Kool-Aid! OMG. 
I have resisted going Mac for many years, mostly because I am a PC gamer (the selection of games for Mac is still limited) and I couldn’t justify a Mac laptop simply as a “nice to have.” Recently, I have found myself needing a more capable personal laptop, which was just enough to “convince” myself that I “needed” to get one…right now! So I did. I will likely (but not until end-July I suspect due to work requirements) do a first impressions write-up about my experience, so I won’t go on about it much now. I will however say that the Retina display is amazing! It is as good as they claim, and all your friends who have one have been raving about.

Thank you!

I have entirely enjoyed the experience, the feedback, and sharing my thoughts with all of you. Thank you for both your time and your attention, and I look forward to the next time!