Why A Chromebook

Chromebook as a Daily Driver

I've been using the Chromebook for about two weeks. It's not quite my daily driver as far as work-productivity goes, but for non-work-related uses it's moving up in prominence.

There are two primary reasons the Chromebook isn't my first choice at work: 1) I develop software on multiple platforms, 2) I have a much more powerful workstation at the office.

I don't think anyone, even Google, are suggesting the Chromebook is meant for serious software development. I've found a few blog posts about using the Chromebook for web development...a simple LAMP stack. That's not possible in my case. I regularly write software in Java, C#, C and C++ for Windows and Linux. While it might technically be possible to write Java, C and C++ on a Chromebook (with a lot of configuration), it's not practical.

There's also the three screens. I have an iMac with two additional monitors. That's a lot of screen real estate.

So Why a Chromebook?

Given my needs as a developer and the limited hardware, why buy a Chromebook? There are several reasons:

Portable Terminal

While my desktop system and computing-resource needs far outstrip the abilities of an ARM-based Chromebook, I hope that for my personal development projects the Chromebook might function as a portable terminal.

I mostly work in Emacs when writing code for other than C#. Emacs works as well from a command line as a windowing environment. Chromebooks have a good ssh client.

This also partially addresses a concern I have with laptops. It's easy to get in the habit of running them for days, months and years without ever backing up. Working from a server doesn't necessarily mean you're backing up but it does mean you're less likely to lose a lot of work when you leave your Chromebook in a coffee shop or it's stolen from the car.1

Speed, Weight and Battery Life

For meetings and non-development work the Chromebook is fantastic. It's light, very quick to respond (especially when sleeping and waking-up) and runs all day.

The weight matters for two reasons: 1) I don't mind toting it to meetings, and 2) it's light to carry when I ride the bus. 3 pounds doesn't sound like a lot but it's enough to be noticeable. More so since I'm using it as a portable terminal I find I'm carrying less over all.

Quiet

This is a follow-up on the previous point but it matters to me. Upgrading my MacBook Pro to 500 GB increased the noise output of the computer. There's nothing to hear in a Chromebook.

Curiosity

I am a developer. ChromeOS and the Chrome web browser represent a new development platform and model for computing. I'll write about the latter topic in a future post but for now suffice it to say, I'm intrigued by the platform and where Google are taking it.

Non-Expert Computing, a.k.a, My Family Need Low-Cost Computers

I'm a programmer. Most people, including my wife and children (so far) aren't. Does everyone need a Core i7 with 32 GB of RAM and 750 GB of disk space...everywhere they go? I'm not so sure they do.

I don't mean the preceding in the High-Priest of Computing sense. What I mean is that a light-weight, quick-starting system that meets the user's most common computing needs makes sense. It makes the same sense that a VW Bug makes for a single person over-against a 4-wheel-drive Chevy Suburban. Sure, if you need or want one, buy one. But if something smaller, lighter and with fewer moving parts make sense why not buy that instead?

This is also the direction Apple are moving with the MacBook Air and even the iPad. The question isn't whether people will use appliance computers. It's just when.

And for that reason I have a Chromebook. I'm the vanguard in my family and among friends. They know this is my field. I want to have an informed opinion when asked. And when it comes time to buy additional computing resources for high-school and college-bound children, we can weigh the options.

Conclusion

Most, perhaps all, of these reasons boil down to personal preference. And that's as it should be. We don't have to all use the same solution. In fact, it's best if we don't. There's no shortage of arguments against computing "mono-cultures".

I'm not writing to convert anyone. I'm offering a perspective.

Footnotes


  1. Dropbox, Google Drive and other "cloud storage" tools can also help mitigate this issue. And they're something of a backup. Of course with a Chromebook and Google Drive you get the best of both worlds.