It all started with the price. I keep seeing ChromeBook’s everywhere for CRAZY cheap. You can get new ones from like $139 and up, and used ones for maybe $79 and up.
But what is it? What’s the deal with this platform? Well, I picked one up and felt compelled to check it out!
What is a ChromeBook?
This is basically a SUPER-light, low-powered but very fast, 11” or 13” laptop computer that specifically runs Google’s ChromeOS operating system. Can it run other operating systems? Yes*. The asterisks is because it technically can, but it’s fairly convoluted. But yes – Google it or look on YouTube and you’ll see videos of how to install other versions of Linux on a ChromeBook. You typically wouldn’t run Windows because these are not powerful enough. For example, I picked up an 11.6” Asus which has 4GB of RAM and an 16GB SSD hard drive. Running Windows on that would be painful!
In that way, the ChromeBook hardware is very specialized. It’s meant to run ChromeOS extremely well – and it totally nails it! It doesn’t have any extra, battery-draining features, it’s just highly-specialized to run ChromeOS, run it well, have all the features you need – while having very low energy consumption needs.
What is ChromeOS?
There is first, the philosophy… How do you feel about Google? Their business model is based-off taking every byte of data to which you grant them access – and they use that to build a marketing profile, which they sell to marketers. So, if you buy-in to the Google ecosystem, then you give Google every bit of you: your searches, your e-mail, your voice calls, your text messages, your browsing history – everything!
Normally, I would say that is unacceptable, but there are a few cases where this might be OK. Hear me out!
ChromeOS is a very minimalist operating system which is heavily based out the Google ecosystem. instead of having access to your hard drive, you use Google Drive like a local hard drive. Instead of using apps like Microsoft Word or Excel, you use Google Docs right in the browser. So, you use all of their cloud-based offerings as if they are local apps. There are “offline” versions of many apps too, for when you are not-connected.
You might think running all of your apps out of a browser would be bad – but when you take away address bar and toolbar and just use the “app” in a regular, menu-less window, you really do forget you are on a web page. Plus, many apps do install some code locally (as a Chrome extension) to make it feel more like a local app. So, it’s not as big of an inconvenience as you might think.
Since this is it’s own operating system, it doesn’t run Windows, MacOS, or Linux apps – the only “apps” you can run, are basically things found in the Chrome Web Store: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/ – you might be shocked to see there are TONS of apps for everything you can imagine, including lots of games.
Using a ChromeBook as a private person or student:
Well, for school work – this is really ideally suited! If you buy-in to the Google ecosystem, you have Google Docs for your homework, Google Drive for your files, Gmail for mail, etc. So, for the “work” side of your life, it is not just OK – but it’s downright fantastic! With a 10+ hour battery life, it will last a whole school day on one charge too – and the apps are stable, mature, fast, and feature-filled.
The downside is that your personal life is also shared with Google. Your searches, your browsing history, your private documents and e-mails. So, it depends on if this is a showstopper for you or not. Or, if the convenience and price are worth the trade-off in privacy. If you are, it truly is a very impressive and even ideal platform (aside from those privacy concerns)!
Using a ChromeBook as a regular business user:
If you have a startup or work for a company where you need super-lightweight , fast, cheap access to your files stored in the Google ecosystem. This is really a great option. If this is a company, then you probably don’t care as much because Google spends more time profiling and stalking people, not companies. There is even extensive support for other systems – like DropBox, OneDrive, etc. There isn’t much y can’t use or access from a ChromeBook.
So – this is probably the sweetspot for this technology. You have a fast/easy/cheap/quality computing environment. If you don’t care about privacy too much, you can use the Google ecosystem to your advantage!
Using a ChromeBook as an IT professional:
To take this one step further – what if you are an IT professional? Well, the same things apply as the regular business user, except you need access to “stuff”. Well, in the Chrome Web Store, there are apps for a Remote Desktop (RDP) client, an a high-quality SSH client, and even VNC. So, using a ChromeBook to connect to other systems to do work, works well.
The downside here becomes the screensize. On this 11.6” screen, the max resolution is 1536×864. To be honest, even if it supported it, I wouldn’t want to go any smaller than that. And, that is a pretty good resolution if you were RDP’ed into a server for example, for on an 11.6” screen, you need to run everything in full-screen mode. Otherwise, you just have too many scrollbars.
So, if you are an IT professional and need a small, fast, cheap device to “connect” to your actual resources where you really do work, this acts as a pretty good tool. The very-long battery life makes it ideal too if you are mobile a lot.
For what it is, it’s a VERY compelling option. The hardware is cheap, light, and very fast. I mean from a cold start, it is 9 seconds to the login screen. If you are coming back from a sleep, it’s instant. The hardware and software have a high-quality “feel”. It is not a high-powered machine, but it doesn’t need to be. The “cloud” is your main computing environment.
So in every way, a ChromeBook is more like a “portal” device. You use it to connect to other things. And it does this VERY well!
If you are using it as a regular user, you use it to connect (primarily) to Google services. If you are an IT pro, then you connect to RDP, SSH, and VNC hosts. In that way, you don’t really do work on this computer, you just use it to connect to other systems – where you do work.
The result is pretty great. I mean like 11-16 hour battery life, WiFi, Bluetooth, and Webcam all work great – it’s highly-specialized hardware for what it’s meant to do, and it does it really great. The ONLY real downside at all is whether you are OK with selling your soul, and giving Google so much of your life. Then again, maybe you create a separate Google account for stuff that you do on your ChromeBook?