Can I Use A Chromebook?

Acer Chromebook C720I like to tinker with different operating systems, although the majority of the time I use Windows. At work I use either Windows 7 or 8, at home I have Windows 8 and OS X, and then of course I have many devices running Android and iOS. I’ve dabbled with different Linux distros, but so far I have not done anything with Chrome OS, but soon that will change as sitting under the Christmas tree is an Acer C720.

The technology press and enthusiast sites have a love/hate relationship with Chrome OS. Many wonder why anyone would spend the money to buy one when one can purchase similar notebook computers running a full operating system. People who like Chrome OS cite that it’s less about what you can or cannot do with it and more about what you don’t have to do with it. Shorter set up times, automatic and quick updating, and less failures all add to less time spent tinkering and fixing and more time doing.

If a Chromebook comes with less headaches, and I can use it to do all that I need to do with a computer, the better question may be, why not use a Chromebook rather than why buy one. As I patiently wait for Christmas to start playing with the Acer, I thought I would spend some time up front writing down my expectations and what are the specific questions I want to answer about the Chromebook and Chrome OS.

What are my expectations?

I expect the Chromebook to be a nice fit to my notebook personal computing needs because whenever I use either a desktop or notebook the majority of the time I am using a web browser. Two exceptions are Evernote and Spotify, both of which have web apps that I have not used much because the platform (Windows, OS X, Android) versions of these apps are usually at my disposal. To truly find out whether this expectation can be met, I will have to exclusively use the Chromebook for all of my personal (non-work) notebook and desktop computing needs.

I also use the Windows Remote Desktop app to access a Windows server that I have running at Amazon, so in order for a Chromebook to completely replace Windows and Mac OS X for me, I will need to find a way to RDP to my Windows server. There are three apps in the Chrome Web Store that claim to provide RDP connectivity that I will try, and worst case is that I will dual boot Linux.

My experience using the Chromebook will be influenced by the capabilities of Chrome OS and the Acer C720 hardware. I am more interested about Chrome OS than the hardware as I know there are other options available to address any hardware limitations. I expect that because the keyboard on the Acer C720 is smaller than a full size keyboard, it may be difficult to type at high volume. For example, while I can type on the Asus VivaTab RT’s keyboard, I don’t know if I could type on it for hours because to do so would be too fatiguing.

What can I do offline?

If you don’t know, Chrome OS is an operating system from Google with a Linux kernel that uses the Chrome web browser for its user interface. Imagine a computer that when you turn it on instantly loads Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Firefox and everything that you do is only within that web browser.

Most of the time when one uses a web browser, they use it to access web sites on the Internet. Internet access is so ubiquitous now that it is not often that one cannot connect to it, even if you are on an airplane. Still, there might be times when I won’t be able to connect the Chromebook to the Internet, and in those instances, just how useful is it?

What I know is that Google provides offline capabilities for their cores apps that I use: Gmail and Google Drive, which include their word processor and spreadsheet apps. I don’t believe there is an offline version of the Evernote web app, so I don’t expect to be able to access my Evernote content if the Chromebook does not have an Internet connection.

Truth is, the majority of my personal computing: reading e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or RSS feeds, all require Internet access. None of the “platform apps” for these services provide download content for offline consumption. Consequently, if I don’t have a connection to the Internet, I am not doing much, if any, computing. The one computing task I do most offline is reading eBooks, which I only do on tablet personal computers and not on a notebook personal computer.

Bottom line, my expectation regarding how Chrome OS handles being offline is that it will not be a big deal for me, even if I was using a notebook I likely would not be doing much with it if it wasn’t connected to the Internet. The reality for me is that Internet access is more mission critical than what device I use to access the Internet, which is why I spend money on redundant ways to access the Internet (Comcast for the home, AT&T Wireless, Verizon, and Virgin Mobile/Sprint. Verizon and Virgin Mobile are pre-paid and current not active, but can be activated whenever I need it.)

How much do I need a keyboard based PC to do and can I do that with a Chromebook?

Put another way, how much writing do I do? I am not writing a book and therefore do not have need to provide documents in the Microsoft Office format. Most of my writing is for my blogs, which I currently initially compose in Fargo, and I write some emails, followed by status updates and other sharing on social networks.

Most of my blog posts are long form, for example, so far this article has 1024 words, so my “serious writing” is more than a couple of paragraphs that one might type for an email. The amount I write is greater than the average person, but still I may spend an hour or two at most a day typing, much less than full time writers who can easily spend six hours or more a day at a keyboard. I expect to be able to do all the writing that I need to do on the Chromebook

How good is the hardware and battery life?

I wrote earlier that evaluating the Acer hardware is less of a priority for me than Chrome OS because I know there are larger Chromebooks available, such as the HP Chromebook 14. Still, portability is very important to me, which is why I chose a Chromebook with a 11 inch screen over the one with a 14 inch screen. Clearly, the Acer’s 11 inch screen is much smaller than the 23 inch screen of the HP TouchSmart desktop computer that I am using to write this blog post.

First and foremost I want to know, can the Acer make it through a day on a charge under my normal usage? While it has to last a day, truth is, my Macbook Air can go a week or more between charges some times and it would be great if the Acer did the same while suspended.

Next, I want to know whether the Acer can handle Javascript-based web apps like Fargo, Evernote, Gmail, Twitter, Google+, and Facebook that I use day in and day out. As an example, it can be frustrating to use these apps on the Asus VivaTab RT because the web browser on it cannot process Javascript fast enough. Consequently, when I type in Fargo there can be noticable delays as the browser catches up to my typing speed. The SunSpider benchmark on the VivaTab is 1143.2 ms, my Macbook Air benchmarks at 323.7 ms in Chrome (268.3 ms in Safari) , and the TouchSmart desktop in Chrome benchmarks at 250.2 ms. I am hoping the Acer benchmarks much faster than the VivaTab.

Do I need Linux?

I know that I can run Linux on the Chromebook, and I plan to use Crouton, but the real question is, do I need to? My limited knowledge of Crouton suggests the one reason I may want to use it is for Skype, which I rarely use. Some people prefer to use Evolution for accessing their email, but I am fine using Gmail in a web browser.

The benefit of Crouton appears to be that it enables one to run Linux and Chrome OS at the same time, rather than having to select one or the other at the time you boot the computer. I might even try to use Linux exclusively for a period of time to see how that works for me.

Will I Like The Chromebook?

Right now, I see no reason why I will NOT like the Chromebook. I am actually pretty tolerant of the idiosyncrasies of my personal computers, so I will be patient enough to determine whether the Chromebook has a place in my computer toolkit. I know I am going to have fun learning all I can about the Chromebook, the question is, will I be using it when my birthday comes in April?

About Frank

Mobile enthusiast and author
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