Life with a Chromebook: The first month

acer-c720About a month ago, my very expensive and much-loved MacBook Air died a sudden and painful death.  The screen fractured, initially displaying some thin vertical lines that I could ignore, and then becoming completely useless.

The “geniuses” at the Apple Store “Genius Bar” told me that it was all my fault and couldn’t possibly be an issue with how the thing is manufactured, and as a result, it wasn’t covered by the warranty and a repair would cost around £380 (US$636).

For that price, I thought, I could pick up a couple of brand new Chromebooks.

So I bought one (an Acer C720) and have been using it for 28 days.

(Meanwhile, the corpse of my brand-new MacBook Air sits on a shelf as I try to decide what to do with it.  Any suggestions welcome.)

There are basically four kinds of laptops you can own these days.  Most people buy Windows laptops.  Those with a bit more money buy Macs.  (A word of warning to them: don’t let your screen fracture.)  The more ambitious configure their laptops to run a variant of GNU Linux.  I’ve done all three over the years.

The fourth kind of laptop is what is properly known as a “thin client”, meaning a laptop with little or no actual software or memory.  It’s essentially a web browser, with screen and keyboard.

Like everyone else, I thought the problem here is what could I do with a thin client — don’t I need a “proper” laptop?

Short answer — no, I don’t.

Now this is not for everyone, but everything I did on the MacBook Air (and on my desktop, which is a Mac Mini) I can do on the Chromebook.

This includes the following:

  • Email: I’ve been using a web-based email system anyway, no need for a local client.  (They all work well here.)
  • Web: Goes without saying.  Limited to Chrome, but I don’t mind.
  • Social networks: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn all work fine.
  • Photo editing: I’ve only used Pixlr anyway 90% of the time (to crop or shrink images), and never owned Photoshop.
  • File editing and file transfer: I use ShiftEdit — works pretty much as well as using a more conventional text editor and dedicated FTP client.  Certainly useful for when I’m away from the office.
  • Music: I’ve been a Spotify fan for some time now, and don’t keep music on a hard drive anyway.
  • Word processing and spreadsheets: Google Docs is a reasonable substitute for OpenOffice and LibreOffice; I haven’t used Microsoft Office for many years.
  • Evernote: The Chrome app works like a charm.

So what’s missing?  It’s not possible that I can do absolutely everything with a ChromeBook, right?  I mean, it costs one fourth the price of a MacBook Air.

There is one thing: Skype.  It doesn’t work.  But I don’t care — I never use Skype on a laptop anyway.  I use it on my iPod touch, or a phone when I had one.

So what do I miss about my Mac Book Air?

The money I wasted buying it.

7 Comments on "Life with a Chromebook: The first month"

  1. Jeremy Green | 03/06/2014 at 18:14 |

    You can’t do Skype? Because it won’t run in a browser and Skype/Microsoft doesn’t have a proper mobile strategy. Perhaps WebRTC will sort this out…eventually.

  2. David Robbins | 03/06/2014 at 18:26 |

    Food for thought for this Mac fan…but I hear you re: costs. What about layout and design? Nothing too fancy, but the odd poster or flyer. Any solutions there?

  3. Pretty much what Microsoft Office can do, Google Docs can do in terms of simple layout. There may be better alternatives around as well — Chrome has an app store.

  4. When my Macbook Air died a year ago, the Apple Store people were delighted to replace the dead solid state drive. Maybe the difference between Virginia and the U.K. Since you have nothing to lose, why not contact Apple HQ?

  5. What happened to degoogling and promoting open source?

  6. Things move on. And anyway, tell me about an open-source, inexpensive thin client like the Chromebook and I’ll be the first to get one.

  7. Arieh Lebowitz | 10/06/2014 at 05:51 |

    Eric: See here –
    Relevant excerpt:
    You Can Install Linux On Chromebooks

    Although Google is introducing a growing number of offline applications, it remains true that some specialist software is simply not appropriate for web-based usage or is not available through the Chrome Web Store. Thankfully, this does not pose a problem. Chrome OS is a Linux-based operating system and, therefore, there are a number of Linux distributions that can be quickly and easily installed on any Chromebook – enabling you to install any software which is compatible with Linux. This includes Skype, VLC Media Player and any other specialist software. Skype on Chromebookv3 640×359 Forget Linux – A Chromebook is the Perfect Replacement for Windows XP Remember, once you’re running Linux you can even use Wine to run Windows software – you won’t even notice that you’re not using Windows! If you intend to install Linux on your Chromebook, we recommend purchasing a model which uses an Intel processor to maximise compatibility.

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