Jack Wallen tackles the enigma of enigmas, otherwise known as the Chromebook. Do you think the Chromebook is the future of computing?
Over the last few months, I’ve been searching for the ultimate ultrabook. My current laptop has lived a solid, productive life (Sony Vaio running Ubuntu 13.10), but its teeth are long and brittle, and it has the gout. So, I’ve been on the quest for something smaller, more powerful, and easy to use.
I’ve looked at just about every possible solution that would fit my needs:
- Outstanding screen
- Top-notch keyboard
- Solid build
- Good battery life
- Runs Linux well
I’ve carefully examined the following:
- Sony Vaio Pro 13
- Samsung Ativ Book 9
- MacBook Pro
- System 76 Galago Pro
- Dell XPS 13 developer edition
- Lenovo Yogo II
- ASUS Zenbook Prime
I’ve spent the better part of two months digging into as many reviews, forum threads, and articles I could find on each to see how users felt about the products -- especially from a Linux standpoint. All were leaning toward the Samsung Ativ Book 9... until I was handed a Chromebook Pixel for review. At that point, everything changed. Everything. This piece of hardware meets each of my criteria, and then some. It has the single best screen I’ve ever beheld, and the best keyboard to ever be at my service. Ever. Period.
But then, there’s Chrome OS. I decided it was in my best interest to start using the platform, before seeing what everyone else had to say about Google’s take on the operating system. I have to admit that I fell in love instantly.
Let me preface this by saying that I’d already moved much of my writing to Google Drive (not only my tech writing, but my fiction as well). The Google Calendar has been my scheduling platform of choice for years, and I’ve used a Gmail address for business for as long as I can remember. So, that was a non-issue. The Chrome OS works flawlessly with those tools.
With Chrome OS, there are always a litany of buts.
To that, I say “nay nay.” And after using the Pixel for a month, I decided to finally take a look at what everyone else was saying about the platform. The immediate conclusion I came to was that most people were writing about Chromebooks without actually using them! It sounds crazy, but what about these claims:
“A laptop that requires a network connection to be useful?” Sorry, but you can work offline with the Chromebook as easily as you can a standard laptop. All you have to do is set Chrome OS to work offline.
“Only 32 GB of space? How can you survive with that?” Easy. You save your work in the cloud or you insert a 64 GB SD card and save away. The average user could easily get by with the kind of space offered on a Chromebook.
“What about Quickbooks or Photoshop or...?” First and foremost, Intuit wants everyone to migrate to their cloud-based solution. I recommend the same thing. Not only is it cheaper in the long run, it’s much more reliable. And Photoshop? Outside of designers, who really uses Photoshop? And if you’re a designer, you’re probably working on a beast of a desktop machine -- or at least, you should be. I’ve used Pixlr on my Chromebook -- it’s fantastic and does everything the average meme-meister needs.
Diving headfirst into the Chrome OS platform has also served to reinforce a few things for me:
- We are a society that does most of its work online
- The majority of users make use of only a fraction of the power of their computers
- A large percentage of the work we do is (or can be) done within a web browser
- Applications and work will continue to shift to the cloud
- The desktop, as we have known it for nearly two decades, is done
Now, I will admit the Pixel is a very special beast. It isn't the most powerful ultrabook available, but thanks to Chrome OS, it feels like the most powerful. Just in case the Pixel completely skewed my opinion about Chrome OS, I purchased an Acer C720 Chromebook. [Side note: I also installed Ubuntu Linux on the Acer and it worked flawlessly.] Yes, it’s small (11” screen), and it’s cheap (currently $199.00 on Amazon); but in the end, it helped me to realize that my perception of Chrome OS is dead on.
The Chromebook is the future of mobile computing.
Imagine taking the best of a laptop and the best of a tablet and cramming it into one device. You have an incredibly efficient productivity tool that will allow you work on a familiar and efficient form (laptop) while gaining speed and simplicity (tablet).
I have yet to find something I cannot actually do with this device. In fact, the Pixel may well have surpassed all other possibilities as my ultrabook of choice. I can’t look at another screen without thinking “Oh, that’s sad” (yes, even Apple’s Retina) -- and the keyboard makes all others look and feel like toys.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that my needs are different that a lot of other users. I’m a writer, so the tools I use on a daily basis are pretty insignificant (on any platform):
- Word processor
- Web browser
I also know that Chrome OS will never replace my monstrous desktop (I depend on that machine for professional-quality audio recording and heavy graphics usage). But for taking my writing on the go, I have yet to find a better-suited platform than Chrome OS.
So, is Chrome OS the future of mobility? Honestly, the way I see it now, Chrome OS is the future of the PC. Google has made a bold shift to a resource that we all continue to grow more dependent on (the cloud), and it has created one of the single most user-friendly computing devices on the planet. There will always be doubters, but the second you get beyond the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD), you can see how the elegance and simplicity of the Chromebook might well meet the mobile needs of the vast majority of users.
Have you tried a Chromebook yet? If so, what was your reaction? If not, what’s stopping you? Share your thoughts and experience in the discussion thread below.