Adventures in Chrome OS

samsung chromebook

Samsung Chromebook

My old Toshiba laptop had been slowly dying for a while.  Historically I would simply just go to CostCo and pick up one of their mid-range Windows machines for $500 which would last me 3 years.1

After looking over my various options, I figured I’d give a Chromebook a shot this time.  If it’s good enough for Chris Anderson, it’s got to be good enough for me.2

After working with a Samsung Chromebook 2  for a few weeks now, I find that it excels at 70-80% of what I need a laptop to do.  Email, blogging, office style software tasks, and ridiculous battery life at a price that almost doesn’t make any damn sense.  It’s the last 20-30% uses that have been more challenging.  So far, uses items include:

  • Heavy email wrangling.  I’ve got probably a dozen email addresses, all of which are routed to a single Thunderbird install.  Dozens of filters keep it all under control.  Since I don’t want to be bothered by emails from all the accounts all the time, but do want access to them when I need it, I leave my machine on all the time and access it remotely when necessary.
  • Serious Office Tasks.  Google Sheets and Google Docs seem adequate, but I haven’t found them up to the task of gnarly office documents that require significant formatting.3 I inherited a set of MicroSoft Office Excel spreadsheets from someone with literally millions of cells.  I wouldn’t look forward to trying to edit that document in what amounts to a browser window.
  • Dropbox Integration.  I can access Dropbox files using a ChromeOS extension, but I can’t place documents into Dropbox – unless I upload them into the website manually.  Admittedly, if I just switched to Google Drive, this problem would disappear entirely.
  • Arduino Projects.  I don’t know of a way to use an Arduino IDE on a Chromebook.
  • FTP Client.  Again, I don’t know of a way to use an FTP client on a Chromebook.
  • OpenSCAD.  There are a number of web based CAD programs, but even the OpenSCAD web clones don’t work quite as well as a local install.
  • MakerWare.  My MakerBot Replicator 1 Dual is still in excellent working order.  I use MakerWare to slice models, drop them onto an SD card, and then run them on the Replicator from the SD card.

For these items I’ll go and use the old laptop or, more frequently, connect to that machine remotely from my Chromebook.  The thing is, I’d like to eliminate my crappy laptop from the equation entirely.  I think there’s two ways to go from here:

  1. As a friend suggested, I could use Crouton to install Linux on the Chromebook.  Doing so would basically take care of each of my last remaining 20-30% use cases.
  2. Ditch the old laptop and replace it with a small PC designed to be “always on” such as a Raspberry Pi or a mini PC without a monitor.  When I needed to use the device, I would simply use remote access to gain control, do what I needed to do, and move on with my life.

 

  1. Two years of decent function followed by a crappy year of service []
  2. In fact, it was this particular tweet from Chris that inspired me to give it a shot.  I’ve never had a malware infection – something about that tweet just resonated with me.  It’s almost like someone whispered to me, “Switch to a Chromebook and all worries will drift away…” []
  3. It’s a job thing []

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