CHROMEBOOK CHALLENGE DAY TWO THROUGH FOUR

Hey everyone — sorry about the posting delay. Saturday and Sunday were very low-computing days, so I didn’t experience terribly many epiphanies about how I can “do more with less” or what-have-you.

Here’s what I did discover over the past few days.

1. Be wary of editing docs in Quickoffice.

This is *definitely* user error, but a word of warning is warranted nonetheless. I was working on a paper for one of my courses — typing out five pages of notes — only to open my Chromebook once again to find everything absolutely gone. This is because the Chromebook has two very similar office suites built-in.

The first, of course, is Google Docs. Let me be clear: anything you write in a Google Doc on a Chromebook will be automatically saved as it would on any other computer. 

The second, though, is Quickoffice, a recent Google acquisition that allows for brilliant compatibility with Microsoft Office documents. The issue is that the Chromebook version (at least, in my experience) is a VIEWER and not a true editor. You are definitely allowed to make changes, there’s just no automatic saving. In the future, I’m going to quadruple-check that I’m working in Google Docs to ensure I don’t make the same mistake again.

2. Chrome OS is dead simple. Which is a good thing.

I like to bring my own computer when I’m in a meeting, in lecture, or in transit. My Chromebook has received a ton of exposure, even in these past few days. A number of people have been like, “oh, look at the Mac guy swapping over to the dark side, eh?” forgetting that Acer, perhaps best know for Windows computers, also is a leading manufacturer of Chromebooks. After showing people around a bit, it’s clear that Chrome OS is on to something: working from the browser alone can be a bit daunting at first, but it’s a great intermediary between the small size (and low price) of a tablet, and the creative power of a larger laptop. Of course, you won’t be running Photoshop on a Chromebook, but you *can* comfortably write a paper, send emails, or work with some of the more intense free software out there (R, LibreOffice, GIMP, etc).

Alright — that’s about all of the interesting stuff I’ve discovered over the weekend, but here’s one of the most exciting bits. I’m planning to devote one day (or a few days) each to explore what options we have for photo editing, communication, and document creation in Chrome OS. Then, I plan to spend another few days on some modifications I’ve made to my Chromebook to make it fit my needs, even as a general-purpose machine with a full desktop.

If you have any questions or recommendations, please shoot me a tweet — I’m at @brandon_mn

Thanks again for reading!

*** This is a part of my Chromebook Challenge series. Take a look at it from the start here.

CHROMEBOOK CHALLENGE DAY ONE

Admittedly, I spent most of my time writing notes in LibreOffice and analyzing data in PSPP and R today. This just highlights how versatile a slightly-hacked Chromebook can be, or something! Using the a series of scripts from Dan Schneider (called crouton), I can run a full desktop environment on the Chromebook. If you’re at all interested in doing something similar, I highly suggest you check out the crouton project (https://github.com/dnschneid/crouton).

The biggest difficulty I’ve encountered with the Chromebook is getting used to the touchpad. The gestures are pretty standard (two finger scroll, tap-and-drag, tap to click), but the trackpad itself is insufferably stiff and tiny. Admittedly, it beats many Windows laptops I’ve used (and I’ve used a few), but it’s a far cry from my MacBook’s aluminum-coated-glass-slab-of-touch-responsive-glory, or even the ThinkPad X1’s formidable affair.

Next up: Day Two

THE SPRING 2014 CHROMEBOOK CHALLENGE

Inspired by Andrew Cunningham’s ChromeOS-only CES project, I think I’m going to try to get through this semester using my Chromebook as my only mobile device.

THE BACKGROUND:

I bought a plucky little Acer C710 Chromebook last June as a low-powered computer playground. At that time, I was trying to learn JavaScript and Python (still am!) and wanted a computer I could take anywhere, trust to last a few hours, and run some gritty programs (like R, the GIMP, and GParted) that I didn’t want to run on my MacBook.

Then, I started messing around with crouton and found a way to graft a CrunchBang-like interface onto the Chromebook. In addition, I’ve ran Unity and ElementaryOS shells on the machine, right alongside ChromeOS.

I’ve come to realize that I have no need for massive computing power for most of my day. The Chromebook and a web browser can handle almost anything I need to do when I’m at work or in transit (which works out to about 70% of my time).

THE PLAN

Let me be clear: I’m still going to have access to a full desktop on my Chromebook, thanks to dnschneid’s crouton project (previously mentioned), the work of innumerable intrepid forum members, and a bit of elbow grease. I’ll still be able to run a bunch of GNU tools (R, GParted, GTK, gcc) and other desktop applications (Firefox, LibreOffice), but I won’t do anything out of the reach of basic troubleshooting and published scripts.

For the purposes of this challenge, I’ll use the Chromebook as my main computer from 9 to 5, during my work/class hours.

Part of my job entails instructing people in how to use Mac OS/Windows/Creative Suite/Office, so I *will* be interacting with other computers during that time, but I will complete all of my own work on the Chromebook.

I’ll post some tips, tricks, and reflections here throughout the process, starting from Week 1, and extending through the next month. If you have questions for me, shoot me an @-reply on twitter (I’m @brandon_mn), and I’d be happy to answer them.

HOW WILL YOU DO YOUR WORK WITHOUT {insert application}?

Whether I’m on my MacBook or my Chromebook, almost all of my work is done using open source and/or free software (basically, it’s all writing, which can be done in a command-line text editor or through LibreOffice).

My long-term goal is to leave my MacBook entirely for heavy-duty projects in Illustrator/InDesign/Photoshop/Final Cut.

Finally, I reserve the right to swap back to my MacBook if the situation absolutely calls for it. I’m really excited for this challenge, but I’m not going to risk my job/grades/sanity for it. 

Here goes nothing!

-b

** Next Post: Day One