gone google, part 2: converting to chromebook

My Other Computer is a Data Center

In August 2012, I uninstalled Microsoft Office from my work-issued MacBook Pro. I was already mostly working in Google Docs. And the few times I need to use Microsoft Word or Excel, I have access through Citrix. I was nervous to pull the plug on Excel, but doing so didn't cause any immediate problems.

After that success, I decided I might as well as get rid of my work-issued MacBook Pro entirely. In September 2012, I exchanged my Mac for a Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550.
Here's how I transitioned:

Step 1:  Move to the Cloud
  • I already had no files saved locally. I was 100% in the cloud. This includes music (Google Music), spreadsheets, docs, etc. (Google Drive). 
  • Tip: Change the default download directory in chrome://settings to a "_Downloads" folder on Google Drive.  That way when you save email attachments, they are imported directly into the top folder in Google Drive.
Step 2:  Configure Displays
  • I had been using a three-screen display: My Mac, and two 24-inch external displays. Since the Chromebook presently only supports one display at a time (mirroring the device's screen), I spent a week using my Mac with the laptop closed, and only one external 24-inch display. It was a bit of a switch, but I'm pretty used to working only on one large screen now.
    Update: As of January 2013, the Beta Channel now supports extended multi-monitor display.
  • The Chromebook has easy support for dual-pane browsers (two browser instances side by side).  They're a bit narrow on a 24-inch external display, but it's sufficient for tasks where I need dual display capability.
  • The Samsung 550 has a DisplayPort video output. My external display had a DVI input, and the DisplayPort -> DVI transition isn't perfect.  So I swapped my external display for a 24-inch monitor with DisplayPort input.  The resolution on the external monitor is great.
  • I bought this adapter to connect my Chromebook to my 46" TV at home.  Works great, and even pipes the audio through to the TV.
Step 3:  Install Some Apps.  I installed a few Chrome apps to make life easier with the Chromebook:
The Results

     Pros
  • It's fast.  Really fast.  As fast if not faster than my Mac.
  • Setup took just a few minutes.
  • Long battery life.
  • Great speakers.  Really great.
  • Security. My computer has no information on it.
  • Clutter-free. Most computers slow down over time as they become cluttered. I can wipe the Chromebook and start fresh as often as I want.
  • Compact and light.  Travelling with the Chromebook and the power adapter is significantly lighter than with the MacBook Pro.
  • No problem using external (USB) keyboard and trackball.
  • Verizon 3G connectivity for emergency access to the cloud when WiFi isn't available (100mb/month free - I won't be surfing the web, but if I need to get a critical email sent, I can). I can also tether via my Galaxy Nexus phone.
  • Google Drive integration is great.  It's treated as a drive on the computer, and it syncs in the background.
  • I'm on the Beta channel, and it rarely crashes.  I do a full reboot about twice a week (this takes about 10 seconds).
  • Device updates.  About once every two weeks or so, my beta-channel software updates.  It takes ten seconds.  Literally... ten seconds to restart to update to the new version.
     Cons
  • One external display (see above) - hopefully this will be fixed with support for multiple displays. As of January 2013, the Beta Channel now supports extended multi-monitor display.
  • Lack of profiles in Chrome.  Using multiple Google accounts (as most of us do at Google - a work account and a personal account) requires more effort than just using the Chrome browser on a computer.  The work-around is to use Google's multiple account sign-in, but it's not a perfect solution.
  • There is not presently a way to upload music from the Chromebook to Google Music.
  • The power adapter for Chromebooks is not standard - it is manufacturer specific, and even model specific.  The plug for the Samsung Series 5 550 is an incredibly small plug, and within 48 hours of use I managed to snap the plug off from the computer.  Fortunately the plug didn't get stuck in the computer.  But this does require some extra care.  The "L" shaped plugs seem less prone to breakage than the straight plugs.
  • There is not a way (except in the Dev channel) to prevent the Chromebook from falling asleep after about ten minutes.  I bought a Mouse Jiggler to keep the Chromebook awake.  Update: As of January 2013, the Chromebook Beta channel is somehow defeating the Mouse Jiggler. I now use this YouTube video to keep the Chromebook awake.
Traveling with the Chromebook
  • I really value that the Chromebook and power brick are light.  Lighter than my MacBook Pro. This makes stuffing them in my shoulder bag and taking them with me almost unnoticeable.   
  • Using Gmail Offline on the plane to respond to emails and clear my inbox was quick and painless, and synced when I landed and got back on the internet.  I was able to do this for multiple accounts, and experienced no loss of data.  If I traveled more, I would definitely set up a "Travel" label, and put unimportant emails in that label for reading and processing offline when I had down-time (on a plane).
  • I hadn't setup Google Drive quite properly, and had no files flagged to be stored "offline."  I should have ticked the "offline" box next to the files I wanted stored locally for offline access.
  • Using the ScratchPad app to jot some notes (such as this one) during the flight was easy, and I knew the notes would be saved safely offline, and syned to Google Drive once I landed.
  • Perhaps I'll install a game, like Angry Birds, for my next flight to give me something to play on the plane.
  • For connectivity in airports and other places that may not have free WiFi, my company gives me an IPASS account which can be used with most WiFi providers (Boingo, etc.), including international service.  If you travel a lot, you may want to look into one of these roaming accounts to get on line in difficult places.
  • I need to remember to carry a DisplayPort video adapter to connect to an overhead projector. 
Disclaimer: I work for Google. I am not affiliated with the Chromebook team. This post contains purely my views, not those of my employer. I have not been compensated or otherwise encouraged to write this post. Google has not reviewed or played any role in this post.

Last update: February 8, 2013

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