A couple of months ago I posed the question: if Apple and Microsoft fell into a black hole, could your business survive?
Chromebooks, running on Google’s Chrome OS, do away with Windows and iOS completely. They’re cheap, they’re fast, they’re portable and they’re highly functional. I bought one instead of a Windows machine or a MacBook when I set up independently with the intention of finding out if they’re now a viable alternative for personal and, ultimately, business use.
I’m two months into the experiment now. The good news is that I’m still writing this from my Chromebook, and that I love using it. The bad news is that I’m not prepared to commit myself and tell you to go out and buy one. Not yet, anyway. Here’s why…
Chromebook Plus Points
My Chromebook is fast. Really fast. It boots in less than 10 seconds and without bloated Windows software it runs like a dream. And not having annoying system updates (as updates are done in the background) and Java prompts is amazing. That is, in itself, almost reason enough never to go back to Microsoft.
It’s also simple to use. The Chrome OS, though different to other operating systems and so something you initially need to get used to, is designed to make carrying out all tasks intuitive. So much so in fact, that when I’ve occasionally used other computers over the last few weeks I’ve been frustrated with the way they’re organised. Chrome is logical and well, just makes sense.
This all makes the Chromebook a brilliant ‘pick up/put down’ machine if you work in different locations. Which is one of the main reasons I bought it. Log on to any wireless network in any location and you have access to everything exactly as if you’re working from your desk. And with a battery life of over 8 hours, the chances of even needing a plug socket when you’re out and about are limited. I’ve never, ever needed one, put it that way.
In conjunction with my HTC One Android mobile and a Chromecast I was recently given for my birthday, the Chromebook forms a complete communications ecosystem that is a joy to use.
So why, given all that, am I not yet willing to commit to Chrome for the long term?
Essentially, this is due to the way others work. Most people don’t even know what a Chromebook is and have never used Google’s suite of programs, let alone understand the differences.
The first glitch is printing. As with everything else they do, Chromebooks work by printing from the Cloud, so you need a Cloud-connected printer or a wireless connection to a network. I’ve worked in a number of client offices over the last couple of months, and not one of them uses Cloud printing. So I’ve had to email docs to others to print for me, which is far from ideal.
The second area of annoyance is document formats and sharing. First, let me clearly state that all MS Office documents are supported in Google Docs; working with a Word, Excel or Powerpoint file started my someone else on a Windows machine is easy. It’s when you’re done that you can run into frustrations.
Surprisingly, not everyone knows what to do when you send them a link to a file stored on Google Drive rather than as an attachment. So I have found myself having to download to MS format and send conventionally, which is frustrating not because of the process but because it limits (and sometimes negates) the benefits of working in the Cloud.
There is, of course, Microsoft Live which enables you use to use the full Office suite online. But essentially, the efficiencies of Chrome and Cloud-working, which I love, are lost.
Next up: software. For the most part, you can do everything on a Chromebook that you can do on an Apple or Windows machine. But there are two areas where it can be frustrating. Neither Photoshop or Skype are currently available as web applications, so you can’t use them. There are alternatives of course, notably Pixlr and Google+ Hangouts.
Pixlr is a fantastic alternative to Photoshop unless you’re a graphic designer and use it very heavily. In some areas, in fact, it’s better than Photoshop. The one annoyance is custom fonts. There’s no way of adding fonts easily like there is on other operating systems, and I’ve hacked into my Chromebook to add custom fonts for client Facebook graphics; again, not ideal.
When it comes to Skype, some people are just wedded to Skype in the same way they’re wedded to Office. Suggest you use a Hangout instead is like suggesting they go to the top of their building and jump off. They’re just not going to do it.
The final area of concern is the need to be connected to wifi all the time. 95% of the time, not an issue, but there are times when you want a file and don’t have wifi access. You can work locally on a Chromebook without wifi, you just can’t access saved files unless you’ve previously saved them locally.
That said, tethering to your mobile phone’s internet access negates the issue for the most part, and I’m not really sure this would be any different with any other machine if you work in the Cloud, as I prefer to do.
Keep or Kill?
So there you go. As I say, I love working with my Chromebook. But I find myself limited by others’ lack of technical nous and the way others work. Hence, though I want to commit long-term to this way of working, I can’t quite endorse it 100% just yet.
I’m going to give it a bit more time to see if I can work around the frustrations I’ve encountered and to really consider whether it would be any different were I using a MacBook or a Windows laptop, or whether it’s just a symptom of working as a freelance consultant in a very mobile way.