Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Weekend with a chromebook



I managed to get my hands on an Acer Chromebook 13 for the weekend. I had been trying to use my old netbook running the Windows 10 preview as my main machine at home, but this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. For some reason I find the chromebook an intriguing idea. I keep thinking I need one then I wonder what I would actually use one for and if it could really replace my netbook. So when I noticed a nice new chromebook box sitting on my bosses desk I had to ask about it. When he said I could play with it, I knew I had to give it a go for at least a weekend. So how does the Acer Chromebook 13 and chromeOS stack up?


ChromeOS

You may have heard ChromeOS described as a glorified web browser.  It is a little bit more than that.  ChromeOS utilizes the “cloud” for most things.  This leads to some limitations. A growing number of applictions are being offered online that mimic the traditional installed program.  There are claims of many complex and usable applications.  For example pixlr.com offers a image editor and wevideo edits video. At this point I haven’t had time to actually check these out.  

Anybody who keeps tabs at all on the industry probably knows that currently a strong push to moving software from local programs to services in the cloud. The software companies think this is great because now you don’t buy a license to a software you subscribe to a service, “CHACHING$$$”. As someone who has been around computers since I was a kid in the 80s, I’ve seen this push a couple times before. Anybody remember thin clients? Not to say I believe the effort is doomed to failure. With increasing network access, the environment is much more conducive to cloud computing than in the past.


But even today there will be times when you are offline. Google is trying to ease the pains of those times. They have encouraged many online resources to provide offline modes. Google themselves provide many offline versions that work in Chrome and on Chromebooks. Some other companies have followed suit, but not all.

For example right now I am writing this offline at the laundromat. I would prefer to be writing this in blogger, but blogger doesn't offer an offline mode.  I could be typing in the open browser window were I have the old version of this post, but what happens if the browser crashes or there is a hickup in the javascript when I reconnect and I lose all this I’ve written.  So I am forced to write this in google docs. I did have to setup the offline option for google docs while online.  Doing that means what I am writing here is being saved automatically to the small drive on this chromebook and will be synced back up to google drive when I reconnect.

ChromeOS does offer some other offline capabilities. You can plug in an sd card or a usb stick and interact with the files on them. I took the pictures for this blog with my camera than plugged in the usb stick. I did some simple photo editing and then uploaded them to flickr. I also played a video file. A usb external mouse worked fine. So it's not just a browser.


The Acer Chromebook 13

The Acer Chromebook 13 is a nice piece of kit. The plastics feel a little cheap but what do you expect for $300.  I enjoyed typing on the keyboard. I wish it was on my netbook. I could pound out novels on this thing. They didn't put a caps lock key on the keyboard. Instead it's a search key. This will make several people I know happy. This model carries a 1366x768 screen.  A version with a 1080p screen is available. The screen looks a little washed out but I found it easy to read. The stereo speakers provide good volume for watching youtube videos but music is horrible and tinny.  Acer claims thirteen hours of battery life. To test this I left the charger at the office for the weekend. With pretty normal use it is easily surviving the weekend. I don't think I would get the whole thirteen hours. Ten seems like a more accurate measurement.

Would I buy a Chromebook

This really is the ultimate question. No. Why? Despite what many in the tech press have said, the netbook is not a dead platform. For the same price of this chromebook I can get a netbook that runs a full fledged operating system. If I want the features given to me by ChromeOS, I just have to use chrome and the extensions. Yes the netbook might be a little slower and not have the battery life, but I just don't see that the Chromebook brings enough to the party to justify itself.

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