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3/11/2013
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Chromebook Pixel: My First Week Living In Cloud

After forsaking all other PCs for a week to work with just a Chromebook Pixel and an iPhone, I learned a few lessons about the post-PC era.

Google Chromebook Pixel: Visual Tour
Google Chromebook Pixel: Visual Tour
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Was it was some subconscious desire to prove that, in building and pricing the Chromebook Pixel, Google had suffered a temporary bout of insanity? Or a fit of self-flagellation to directly experience the contortions necessary to live and work completely in the world of cloud services and mobile apps? Either way, for more than a week I didn't touch a conventional computer. No Macs, no Windows, no Ubuntu. Just a man and his Chromebook (and smartphone, of course).

I was planning to travel for several days last week and have previously lived off an iPad for short trips, but for longer stretches, or if I know I'll have to do some serious writing and editing, I'll normally drag along a MacBook or old Dell Latitude reinvigorated by Ubuntu. But this time, having bought a Chromebook last fall for some testing, finding it to be quite usable and having no fear of being offline thanks to Verizon's impressive LTE network along with a data plan allowing tethering (more on that later), I figured why not give the cloud a try? After all, the Chromebook is lighter than either of my laptops and I'd used it enough to have apps and services set up for all of my basic IT needs.

The PC hiatus started on a Saturday as I tweaked the Chromebook, but the real sink-or-swim moment came when I decided there'd be no last-minute cheating, so I disconnected my trusty Mac Mini from its monitor and plugged in a Chromebox I'd picked up on eBay (with the best of intentions of turning it into a YouTube-streaming set-top box, but I never overcame bouts of procrastination and the inertia associated with setting up a new device).

I knew the Chromebox was snappy, since I'd snagged one of the limited edition models running a Core i5 that Google distributed at last year's I/O Conference (this same basic configuration has recently surfaced as a commercial product), but its performance reaffirmed my conviction to stick with the strategy. It may be overkill for a lightweight OS like Chrome, but like all Chrome devices, the first thing you notice is how fast this thing boots: under 10 seconds (8.43 to be exact as per Chrome's system diagnostics), while its desktop CPU can handle as many browser tabs you care to throw at it. Having satisfied myself that I wasn't missing anything important on a local disk drive, I set out, Chromebook and iPhone in hand.

[ Want more about the Pixel? See Google Chromebook Pixel: Hands-On Review. ]

I am actually a perfect test case for Google's cloud-based enterprise strategy. I've moved my personal domain to Google Apps, relied upon Gmail for both personal and business email and scheduling for years, use Google Sheets to track invoices and Google Docs for many shorter columns, replicate all of my business-related files from local storage to Google Drive, don't edit video ... In sum, there's virtually no service or application that ties me to a native client running on a PC. Still, I've had PCs for decades and much of my research and writing workflow remained centered on native applications. Old habits die hard, so just in case, I loaded a copy of all my important work folders onto an SD card, providing gentle reassurance as it protruded out the side of my Chromebook.

Although Google has made great strides at making Chrome look more like a standalone OS and less like a browser with lots of tabs, it still often looks like a browser with lots of tabs. Unless you specifically configure apps to open in their own window, which I highly recommend for many of the more self-contained apps and utilities like Drive, Gmail, Calendar, IM+ (a multi-platform IM client) and Calculator, clicking an icon in the launcher just opens up another tab on your last-used Chrome window. But, if you've used Chrome on a PC, it's a very familiar experience.

The real beauty of Chrome isn't so much the UI (while lacking the polish of OS X or the novel look of Windows 8 or Ubuntu Unity, it is certainly not ugly), but its speed, stability and simplicity. The thing just works -- fast and without software maintenance. Chrome OS updates download and install automatically, and the cloud-based apps are inherently auto-updating. There's also no data maintenance, since, unless you make a conscious effort to store something locally, it's all online, meaning there's no need to worry about making copies of email attachments or to save documents you're working on -- Google Apps literally don't have "save" functions. Chrome devices are also inherently self-replicating: your environment, settings, profile, apps, bookmarks and data are automatically synchronized to the cloud and show up on any Chrome device you happen to be using.

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kmarko
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kmarko,
User Rank: Strategist
3/11/2013 | 10:56:02 PM
re: Chromebook Pixel: My First Week Living In Cloud
Re: Chrome vs. notebook. The big difference is convenience, maintenance and security. Chrome kills a thick OS on all three fronts (I assume you saw the recent Pwnium challenge: http://techcrunch.com/2013/03/... ). Regarding sites not playing nice with Chrome, that's often due to sloppy coding and can be fixed by faking the User Agent string. There are several extensions that do this and make things like Skydrive work better. To really appreciate Chrome, you need to shed some old, PC-bred habits and think about doing things in new ways. In that sense, it's very similar to adopting a tablet (as per Laurie's comment). I didn't really appreciate the 'app lifestyle' until I lived off an iPad at Interop for a week a couple years ago. Sometimes, different is really just different, not inferior.

Regarding the Pixel: I initially bought into the tech conventional wisdom that this was a crazy move by Google, but now I don't agree. It's clearly targeted at the developer and evangelist community and as such, will serve as a catalyst for an onslaught of new apps and services. Google I/O should be _very_ interesting (too bad it's the week after Interop since I wouldn't mind seeing what they roll out).
kmarko
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kmarko,
User Rank: Strategist
3/11/2013 | 10:55:34 PM
re: Chromebook Pixel: My First Week Living In Cloud
Re: Chrome vs. notebook. The big difference is convenience, maintenance and security. Chrome kills a thick OS on all three fronts (I assume you saw the recent Pwnium challenge: http://techcrunch.com/2013/03/... ). Regarding sites not playing nice with Chrome, that's often due to sloppy coding and can be fixed by faking the User Agent string. There are several extensions that do this and make things like Skydrive work better. To really appreciate Chrome, you need to shed some old, PC-bred habits and think about doing things in new ways. In that sense, it's very similar to adopting a tablet (as per Laurie's comment). I didn't really appreciate the 'app lifestyle' until I lived off an iPad at Interop for a week a couple years ago. Sometimes, different is really just different, not inferior.

Regarding the Pixel: I initially bought into the tech conventional wisdom that this was a crazy move by Google, but now I don't agree. It's clearly targeted at the developer and evangelist community and as such, will serve as a catalyst for an onslaught of new apps and services. Google I/O should be _very_ interesting (too bad it's the week after Interop since I wouldn't mind seeing what they roll out).
kmarko
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50%
kmarko,
User Rank: Strategist
3/11/2013 | 10:46:26 PM
re: Chromebook Pixel: My First Week Living In Cloud
Although I still use tablets for email, status updates and news feed checks (primarily while on an exercise bike :), I see the Chromebook replacing more of my tablet use. While I have forced tablets into being a work machine by using BT keyboards and various writing/content creation apps, this type of work is a much better fit on Chrome.
David Berlind
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David Berlind,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/11/2013 | 8:46:01 PM
re: Chromebook Pixel: My First Week Living In Cloud
Larry, totally agree when you're talking about the Pixel. This is the part that I think Google got wrong was building a super expensive Chromebook. The question is whether you'd reconsider if the reverse were true... the Chromebook being significantly less expensive than a Windows notebook. I have a Chromebook here. I also have a Chromebox. I could definitely envision a company committing itself to an all-Google infrastructure (mail, apps, etc.) and equipping its employees thusly (even on the smartphone front). But I agree that you're going to run into problems when this isn't the case. As journalists (for example), we must investigate other content that's on the Web. Whether it's with my Chromebook, my Chromebox, or Chrome running on my Android phone, a site with Flash based content (and no Flash alternative) will stop you dead in your tracks.. forcing you to crack open something a little more robust.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
3/11/2013 | 7:58:15 PM
re: Chromebook Pixel: My First Week Living In Cloud
What will you do with the old Mac, now, I wonder? My personal Macbook is about to hit its freshness date and I have come to the conclusion there is nothing I need it for anymore, compared to my tablet.

Follow up question: Did this experiment make you more or less fond of iPad, by comparison?

Laurianne McLaughlin
InformationWeek
Paul Gorski
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Paul Gorski,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/11/2013 | 7:35:33 PM
re: Chromebook Pixel: My First Week Living In Cloud
I suppose if you don't mind Gmail and Google docs, you could be OK with a Chromebook, but I'm not a big fan of Gmail nor Google docs. I too work with sites that don't play well with Chrome, and Chrome doesn't play well with single-sign on. If I wanted a full-featured lightweight OS, I'd simply go with Lubuntu, and you can pretty much run that on anything these days.
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