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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.
Speaking of apps, the one criticism of Chrome OS Pixel that reviewers never fail to mention is a lack of applications. Indeed, in terms of sheer numbers, this is quantifiably true. But I've found that for common office and communication needs, nothing's missing. Obviously, anything you already do in a browser works on Chrome OS, but outside of Gmail, my go-to software is Google Apps, a complete and constantly improving office suite that does everything I need while offering better collaboration features than the leading desktop alternative.

But the Chrome Web Store offers a surprisingly complete slate of applications, including niche categories I've found useful like mind-mapping software (MindMeister), outliners (The Outliner of Giants), photo editor (Pixlr), even a secure shell terminal emulator. And for those times when you absolutely, positively must use a PC, there's the Chrome Remote Desktop or VNC Viewer apps that allow you to remote into a Windows, Mac or Linux system.

As the week wore on and my Chrome savvy grew by the hour, helped in no small part by the active, open and incredibly helpful Chromebooks community on Google+, the disconnect between my experience and the generally dismissive spate of Pixel reviews became apparent. Sadly, as the Pixel coverage reinforced, Chrome OS is still tarred with plenty of FUD and half-truths, the most prominent being its dependence on a constant network connection. Not true. All Chrome devices include local storage, typically 16 GB, expandable via SD cards. Also, many apps, including Google Drive, Apps and Gmail, can be configured for offline access.

While this is great for long airplane rides, I think the offline issue should be put to rest. At least for me, no device is worth much when I'm offline, and network access is never a problem today. Wi-Fi is available almost everywhere and cellular data fills in the gaps. If you frequently travel, just make sure your data plan (you do have a smartphone don't you?) includes a tethering option. Chromebook plus smartphone means never having to worry about being offline. If your travels take you to remote (domestic) locales, allow me to put in a plug for Verizon; its LTE network is simply amazing. Part of my week was spent in a one-gas-station burg an hour from the nearest city. Even in this Podunk, Verizon gave me five-bar LTE service with 15-20 Mbps downloads and 3-5 Mbps uploads. This meant that tethered to my iPhone, my Chromebook was getting nearly as much throughput as in my home office. (Why use in room Wi-Fi when it's one tenth the speed?) Conclusion: outside of midflight, there's no such thing as offline anymore.

Another common gripe with Chrome OS is printing. Those of you that still use dead trees as a display medium will be happy to know that the Cloud Print service works quite well. For people like me that replace printers about as often as they buy a new car, i.e. we don't have a cloud-ready printer, you're stuck configuring Cloud Print from a PC running the Chrome browser, although some NAS boxes, like the stellar Synology Diskstation line, also support the protocol. Just remember, don't ever turn off your print server.

My PC-free week went so well that, back home now and having written this piece entirely in Google Docs on Chrome OS, I still haven't found the need to fire up the Mac other than to test the remote desktop feature. In fact, I've rewired the secondary monitor formerly attached to the Mac Mini into my Chromebox and now enjoy almost 4 megapixels of Chrome desktop goodness sprawled across two displays.

Maybe Google wasn't going crazy; something tells me there's a Pixel in my future.