My month with the Acer C710 Chromebook

My month with the Acer C710 Chromebook

Summary: A whole month with nothing but a Chromebook to use for writing, browsing, image editing, emailing, and communicating. It wasn't easy, but it was easier than I imagined.

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If you recall, back on January 31st, I proclaimed that "February 2014 is Chromebook month for me". Little did I realize what I was getting myself into and I almost backed out because I thought it would be impossible. Doing anything new for thirty days is pretty tough. When I first thought of the idea, it seemed like it was going to be fun and easy. February 1st was no picnic for me and I was scared to start this Chromebook-centered test.

So, my three pound companion and I set off on a thirty day partnership to explore the strangeness of a browser-based, no applications—in the traditional sense of the word, minimal operating system called Chromium. As a former Chemist, I feared my exposure to Chromium would be harmful until I found that it wasn't the much loathed heavy metal hexavalent chromium of my days in the lab.

This Chromium (Chrome OS) had much more promise than that of the aforementioned carcinogenic variety. In either case, I saw it as a challenge and as a chance to overcome my fear of not using a "standard" operating system.

Figure1
Figure 1: The Chromebook Shelf

The first few days were a little painful because I kept looking for my regular applications. You see, since my personal conversion to the Mac mini, I look to the application dock at the bottom of the screen. At work (Windows 7), I rely on a half screen full of icon shortcuts and a taskbar for easy access to applications. In Chrome, you have the analogous "Shelf" where you can create shortcuts to your favorite apps. On mine, as you can see in Figure 1, I have the Chrome browser, Gmail, Google Drive, Files, Dropbox, and YouTube.

On Chrome, you have apps that collect themselves into a little box in the bottom left corner of your screen, (See Figure 1) where the Windows Start button (Windows 7 and back) resides.

"If you can use a browser, you're already competent with a Chromebook".

There's not a lot to tell about working with the Chromebook, unless you've never used a browser or the Chrome browser, specifically. All apps are Chrome browser-based. Even ones such as SSH are browser-based. This is not particularly offputting to those of us who've used web-based management tools such as my favorite, Webmin.

The Chromebook, other than being basically a browser-based operating system—at least on the surface, but at its core, it's Linux. Having Linux as the operating system brings the user experience to a new level of enjoyment. That enjoyment comes in the form of no reboots due to constantly arriving patches, annoying freezes, or other anomalies. It comes in the form of a responsive and out-of-the-way user interface. There are just no hassles with a Chromebook. 

The Chromebook receives updates automatically, but allows you to choose when to install and restart the system. The Chromebook is easy to use. If you can use a browser, you're already competent with a Chromebook.

If you need an application to perform some task that you can't find via a standard browser search, Google provides an App Store for you to use. Apps are basically website shortcuts that perform a specific function. For example, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to edit pictures with the Chromebook. I need to edit stock photos and my own photos for ZDNet posts and other gigs as well.

I found the Pixlr Editor app to assist me with that. Pixlr allows me to open images from a variety of sources, edit them with a range of tools, and then save it to my computer (including Google Drive as an option), to a Pixlr library, to Facebook, to Flickr, or to Picasa. Problem solved.

I used Google Docs for my word processing and storing files. Google Docs, regardless of what you've heard or read, is very handy and never fails me. If you haven't tried it, give it more than a cursory look to see for yourself. 

The one problem I did have was finding a Skype replacement. I discovered Google's Hangouts, which allows you to make voice calls using your Google Voice number. The Chromebook has a camera so all calls are video calls unless you disable that feature.

You can see a good example of a Hangout call with the gang from Practical Chrome Podcast and me for their 13th Episode titled, "Tell me what you really think"*. The guys and I discussed all sorts of topics but we focused on my Chromebook experiment, which I used for the podcast. My sound wasn't great and I should have used my headphones but not having a lot of experience with sound and video on the Chromebook, I just used my earbuds and the Chromebook's builtin microphone to pick up my voice. That was a bad idea.

The other guys had headsets and I should have followed their lead by using an external device. In all, it went pretty well. I apologized to them for my bad sound but the video quality is pretty darn good, so it's not all bad news.

So, if you're going to use the Chromebook for phone calls or video calls in Hangouts or any other such app, then use a quality USB headset. USB, they tell me, has better noise cancelling than the standard sound and microphone input jacks do.

My experience with the Chromebook was good. There were really two things that kept my experience from being great: the lack of Skype and no way to interact with the system via a terminal window**.

So, if you're looking for a recommendation, I'll give you one. Go get yourself a Chromebook. It's more than a tablet and less than a regular computer. It's very light and is an "instant on" computer, so you don't waste time watching it boot up. As soon as you open the lid, it's on and ready for you to login. It does almost everything that a regular computer can do and it does it without all the hassles.

*As I told them on the show (referring to the show title), "They must be familiar with my work".

**There is a minimal terminal window where you can do a very short list of things. It's not enough for those of us who like to tinker a bit. For that, there's the developer mode, which is a drastic system intrusion, but more on that in another post.

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Topics: Google, Mobile OS, Mobility, Google Apps

About

Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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Talkback

133 comments
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  • Why waste money?

    Why settle for a half ass experience when one could buy a better computer for the same money which could run anything and everything.
    Owl:Net
    • er

      Did you actually read the article?
      Boothy_p
      • MS OWL

        No way, MS Owl can not read. Just a shill for MS.
        mytake4this
        • Shill or loyalist?

          Would you pay him to post if you were in charge of MS public relations?
          John L. Ries
          • Paid Posting

            They probably are but the inane comments only irritate. Ken's article struck as a fair and balanced review saying that a Chromebook is a good device for many but has some limitations that make it a poor choice for others. A Chromebook is a poor choice for me as a primary device and probably not a great choice for a secondary device. The review confirmed my suspicions but also showed it as an excellent choice for others who have different needs than me.
            Linux_Lurker
          • I dunno

            It may be a cultural thing, but I can't imagine a PR department paying people like Owl to post under any circumstances. It's not like he encourages sympathy for MS, makes it look popular, or helps to turn people off from the competition. And if his posts don't do any of those things, then why would MS pay him?

            "Authoritarian follower" and "troll" both strike me as much more likely explanations of his behavior than "shill".
            John L. Ries
          • Maybe we are mis-interpreting...

            He said not being able to "run anything and everything" so as far as i can tell, he, like me, finds it frustrating that chromebooks at 16gb internal don't leave enough room for a comfortable linux dual boot...

            I'd happily try a chrome book - but room for an ubuntu/derivative install would be essential. I've seen it done quite a bit, but it fills the storage.

            Personally waitin on some good atom win tablets to put SuSe on.... Until then remote desktop from my ipad has been my backup!
            MarknWill
          • 360 HD

            My Chromebook has a 360GB hard drive so what's the problem?
            jimbritttn
          • correct

            Correct, he is a TrollShill, and not owned by Microsoft. You are likely to be correct. It is interesting however to see they paid the Pawn Store guy to make ridiculous claims about the Chromebook. I don't take computing advice from pawnbrokers, or owls, so I guess all is well.
            mytake4this
          • nope

            Wouldn't pay him for ridiculous remarks, but then again they have paid other. I am sure he is freely being a TrollShill.

            So what happens when MS announces similar devices using IE ? Win8RT is sorta along that path now isn't it -- limited Windows device.
            mytake4this
    • Clearly it's not for you

      Chromebook would work well for folks that use only the web.
      Not everyone needs to run anything and everything.

      Great article Ken.
      RickLively
      • But that's exactly...

        ...what advocates of cloud computing appear to want. ChromeOS really represents a revival of the network computing/thin client movement of the 1990s which was calculated to counter the personal computing revolution of the 1980s.

        Personally, I prefer to store my own data on my own machines as much as is feasible.
        John L. Ries
        • On reflection

          The network computing movement, of which the cloud computing movement is a continuation, was really a revival of the utility computing movement that was supposed to make terminals as ubiquitous as telephones back in the 1970s, but the advent of personal computing later in the decade was a definite setback to such a vision (to quote a famous poet: "And now to suit our great computer...").

          I have mentioned once or twice that the future is hard to predict.
          John L. Ries
          • the blazing speed of 110 baud

            was what doomed the concept of terminals in the home in the 1970s. It took 20 more years to get up to 56K modems before wired internet connections did to modems what automobiles did to horse conveyance.
            hrlngrv 
          • If text is all there is...

            ...and you're not uploading or downloading files, then how fast does the connection need to be?

            Back in the days when Multics was supposed to put remote terminals in every office and home, I don't even think there was such a thing as a full screen text editor (but I can't imagine a non-techie using a line editor).
            John L. Ries
          • There appears to be one...

            TECO could be programmed to be a full screen editor and ran under MULTICS:

            http://hack.org/mc/texts/multics-emacs.txt
            jessepollard
          • The big difference between the 1970s and now...

            ...is that the World Wide Web offers content people really want.
            CHIP72
          • Even in the 70s modems were faster than 110.

            110 was 60s era.

            CHEAP 110 was 70s. But 9600 baud modems were available, just not cheap. Even 19,200 were possible... but these were used for trunk networking and not usually attached to POTS.
            jessepollard
    • The Facts

      The article is a waste of time and bias. The fact is that Browser OS's are intended to bring cheap devices to consumers and in turn will eventually lock them into services. We are moving toward a world of SaaS and eventually what is free now will eventually be offered as a paid service. To get there, one must create devices that are cheap enough to get it in the hands of the gullible. The reality is that a PC offers the consumer a choice between storing data local or to the cloud, running your application only with an internet connection or without, paying for an application verses renting one. It’s not about which app is better or which is more powerful. It really comes down to which device will lock you into services or which gives you the freedom to choose.
      rgatl
      • Choice is

        Don't buy one.
        Get a different device.
        Save your breath.
        Sleep well.............
        Boothy_p