Is Chromebook for you? — the goods and bads of a Chromebook

My Lenovo laptop broke a few months back. I sent it for repairs and needed something cheap and lightweight in the meantime. I always wanted to use a Chromebook for fun but never considered it suitable for my needs as I develop primarily in Java. However, this time I was working on some projects where I was doing front-end web development and visualizations and a Chromebook would would have worked for me. I could still ssh into my Linux box to do some Java development (although I won’t recommend it). I finally bought a  Acer Chromebook 13 (CB5-311) and I have been using it regularly for over a month now. I have some good and bad things to say about Chromebooks and a little something about the whole idea of “moving to cloud”.

As I see Chromebooks, I see them to be manifestation of the idea that all (almost) data will move to the cloud and the users will connect to cloud services. In other words, Chromebook is more like an interface to the cloud where the action happens. Chromebook is a very good implementation of this idea which is also useful in evaluating this idea. What this means that most ChromeOS apps (at least those that I found useful) are cloud-based. They need active internet connection. Another factor is the price you pay for using an application. Unlike desktops where most applications are one-time payment, ChromeOS apps tend to have a monthly fee. This is a big disadvantage. Although I am not sure if this is a result of the “cloud ecosystem” or some issues with “ChromeOS” ecosystem. In any case, I see this as one of the biggest roadblocks in Chrome development.

Then, there is the case for some technologies which are entirely free on other OS platforms. One such technology that I use a lot is Latex. It is entirely free on other OSes like Ubuntu for example. However, if I want to use Latex in Chrome, I either need to SSH and use a console-based editor for development (which I have realized not be a workflow for me) or use a paid service like ShareLatex and Overleaf.

After using Chromebook for a while, I realized that this machine is made primarily for non-developers. This opinion is based on the support I see for software development on Chromebook/ChromeOS. One of the biggest challenges for me is that till date, the support for git in Chromebooks is abysmal. To be more honest, there is no support for Git on Chomebook. There is some that I found in a developer app Chrome Dev Editor. But that too is not sufficient for “real” development. The editor as of now only support cloning repositories and pushing — no cloning, no tags, no branching, basically useless.

There are some good things too. Chromebooks are usually very cheap laptops. This means that they are perfect for travelling jobs and for students who just need a laptop just for taking notes. Another great thing about this cheap laptop is its battery life. Most Chromebooks have a long battery life of upto 10 hours which is great if you fly a lot or commute via public transport.

There are good and bad things about Chromebooks. If you want a device for travel, presentations and a little bit of writing, surfing the web and watching some videos, Chromebooks are for you. But if you have specific needs like that of a software developer, or a game designer, it might not work for you. The best thing to do in this case is that before you buy a Chromebook, make a list of things that you want to do and find out if those things are possible on a Chromebook — are there any free or one-time apps on the Chrome Web Store that suit your needs?; Do you mind paying a monthly fee for some Cloud-based application for the benefits of a Chromebook? and are the apps that you are looking for work offline in case you do not expect to have internet access all the time.

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