A Second Chance for Chrome OS

by luke patrick

replacing a macbook with a chromebook

Earlier, I talked about using a Chromebook for web development. I had a lot of nice things to say, and the experience was a productive one. Long story short, it’s absolutely possible to develop full-time with only a Chromebook.

But that doesn’t mean Chrome OS is perfect.
In fact, there are a few choice reasons why I had to go back to the trusty Macbook Air.

Those reasons were:

  1. Graphics editing just doesn’t happen. I tried utilities like Inkscape, but considering the OS is a browser, there’s just no way to do complex vector graphics. If you design during your workday, you’ll have to live without a Photoshop replacement of even marginal competency. It’s a problem.
  2. Need something unzipped? Prepare to hurry up and wait. This may have irritated me the most. And it’s in no way Google’s fault. But when you’re using a browser service to manage your archives, things get buggy. Many items I tried simply did not work. The ones that did unarchive had to sent to the Matrix and back. This process is not intuitive. And sometimes, it doesn’t work well either.
  3. FTP downright sucks. Though, I hardly expected it to go well in Chrome-land. After all, FTP is desktop-oriented. There’s just no ideal way to make file transfers work well within a browser. Ask anyone that’s ever used GoDaddy’s built-in cPanel option. See how long it takes before you want to tear your teeth out. Especially when all your files are in Google Drive, which you can’t access directly.
  4. Messaging also sucks on Chrome. Stuff like WhatsApp and Facebook do alright to bridge the gap, but I missed iMessage. I send a lot of texts, and without that easy access, I may or may not have gone a bit mental.

Becuase of these bits and bobs, at some point it became necessary to use the more robust OS X.

Which makes it tempting to say, “Sorry, Chromium! You’re just not good enough. Into the sea with ya!

But I’m a little stubborn, so we won’t be going there today. Why not?

Because in all honesty, developing with Chrome OS is a fun, invigorating experience. It works well 95% of the time. It’s just that last 5% that kills permanent day-to-day usability.

So what about Linux? Is running Ubuntu in a Chrome wrapper the best way to get the best of all worlds?

In my opinion – probably. But since I’ve already spent the time getting to know this tiny Acer powerhouse, I’d like a positive answer. So let’s bloody do it!

For the next four weeks, I’m going to try to use my Chromebook as much as possible. I’ll only use my Macbook when I desperately need it. I’ve already installed Ubuntu using crouton: After a little more setup, I’ll be ready to rock.

At this point, you might be wondering why I’d keep with Chrome OS instead of swapping wholesale to Linux. It’s not a terrible idea, to be sure. After all, Linux is powerful and has the best development environment outside of OS X. Any computer that’s under $150 and can run Linux efficiently is a winner in my book.

So why stick with Chrome? Because it’s cool and I like it, that’s why!

It’s too good of an operating system to give up on. It comes with some notable benefits which I find compelling enough to keep on board.

Here’s the brief:

  1. I adore the power wash ideology. Because I use the cloud for my core files, being able to erase my local junk drawers at the press of a button is powerful. It’s more of a philosophical shift, but it’s an important one to me. I’m less cluttered, more focus, and can keep my file systems much cleaner.

  2. Everything is in the cloud. Like, everything. So, I never have to worry about backups. That in itself is fantastic, and it comes with no strings attached. No complicated schedules or local NAS: it’s just ready to roll.

  3. Chrome OS is also more user-friendly. Though that doesn’t matter as much to me, it’s important for the long-haul. It matters that a kid can buy a $130 computer and use it – easily – to do everything I can.

A Linux laptop offers a lot of potential on this front, too. But there are some hiccups. I still had to do some basic CLI work to install Ubuntu, then a few more terminal commands post-install to get my distro ready. That’s also without a browser, Sublime Text, Vagrant, or any of the other million things I’d need to do a proper dev space. In comparison, Chrome boots in 30 seconds. They’re both easy, but one is too simple to mess up.

To wrap things up, I’m going to define a few rules. Then, we’re going to go all Dave Goes Chrome. I’ll try to stick to these rules as best I can, and I’ll be updating them as I go along.

  • Rule #1: The Chromebook will be my primary work horse, and barring emergencies, I will abstain from Mac OS X.
  • Rule #2: There will be exceptions. Where I can find a solution to an exception using Ubuntu, I will do just that.
  • Rule #3: I’ll use open source or free software only. This will simulate what it’d be like to use a Chromebook as a cash-strapped kid with a dream.
  • Rule #4: At the end of the project, I’ll provide a detailed rundown of what worked, what didn’t and what you need to replace your Mac with a Chromebook.

Cross those fingers — it’s time to jump down the rabbit hole! See everyone on the flipside.

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